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Updated: Saturday, March 15, 2003 7:54 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(12) Duke 75, North Carolina 63
NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
North Carolina Tar Heels
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DUKE BLUE DEVILS
Duke Blue Devils
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GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Duke took away North Carolina's emotion with an early knockout.

The Tar Heels got an inspirational lift by the surprise return of freshman center Sean May, but the 12th-ranked Blue Devils used a deadly shooting display in the first half and cruised into the Atlantic Coast Conference finals with a 75-63 victory.

Duke (23-6) blew out North Carolina in the opening 20 minutes, shooting 61 percent from the field (20-of-33), including 8-of-11 from 3-point range, to build a comfortable 54-33 cushion at the intermission.

The Blue Devils posted their 14th straight ACC tournament victory and will seek an unprecedented fifth straight title Sunday against North Carolina State, an upset winner over No. 9 Wake Forest in Saturday's other semifinal.

"We're excited to be playing in the championship game again," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We're playing against a really hungry and determined team."

Daniel Ewing picked up where he left on Saturday, when he scored a career-high 32 points in Duke's quarterfinal win over Virginia. He sparked the Blue Devils' early surge with 13 of his 19 points in the first half.

"I knew I had to be assertive going into the starting lineup," Ewing said. "I've tried to do that throughout the season and it is paying off."

"I have ultimate confidence in Daniel," Krzyzewski said. "As a kid, he's unbelievable. He can be just as good a player. Throughout the year, he's had good games, not 32 points, but he's had really good games for us. It doesn't surprise me that he's doing it now."

Once a fixture in the NCAA Tournament, North Carolina (17-15) will miss it for the second straight year. The Tar Heels will have to settle for the NIT, which is an improvement from last season, when they won just eight games.

Freshman Raymond Felton scored 18 points and Jawad Williams added 13 off the bench for North Carolina.

"It was like any other Duke and Carolina game - great intensity and very hard fought," Felton said. "They played great basketball. They shot the ball well and executed on the offensive end."

The teams were meeting just six days after North Carolina's emotional 82-79 victory over Duke in Chapel Hill, a contest that featured a shouting match between Tar Heels coach Matt Doherty and Duke assistant Chris Collins.

Saturday's contest featured some pregame intrigue as Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins refused to shake Doherty's hand during the warmups, although the two did shake after the final buzzer.

With 14:32 remaining in the first half and North Carolina only trailing, 14-8, May checked into the contest and hit his first shot.

May missed 21 games with a broken foot suffered against Iona on December 27 in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden and was not expected to return this season. He got medical clearance to return on Friday.

"Sean wanted to play two weeks ago," Doherty said. "But his doctors, parents and coaches made decisions they think are in the best interest of the young man's future. He was chomping at the bit. His family gave him the nod to play 15 minutes and the doctors okayed that."

However, his presence could not slow down the Blue Devils, who were eager to avenge last week's loss and took the fight out of the Tar Heels early.

"I told my team that we'd probably be facing Sean May," Krzyzewski said. "I just knew he was going to play and so we told the kids not to be surprised. We didn't make any big adjustments because we hadn't seem him play."

May gave North Carolina hope, hitting his first two shots to bring the Tar Heels within 17-12, but that was as close as they go as Duke scored the next seven points. Duke ended the half with a 26-12 spurt to extend to a 21-point lead.

The Blue Devils cooled off in the second half, scoring just 21 points, but still finished at 54 percent (27-of-50), and North Carolina DId not make a run until closing the gap in the final minutes.

"It really means a lot (to beat North Carolina) but that wasn't our main focus," Duke guard Chris Duhon said.

Freshman Shelden Williams scored 11 points and Dahntay Jones added 10 for the Blue Devils, who attempted only four 3-pointers in the second half.


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