DURHAM, North Carolina (Ticker) -- J.J. Redick, Daniel Ewing and freshman DeMarcus Nelson helped Duke continue its mastery of North Carolina in college basketball's best rivalry.
Redick scored 18 points, Nelson added 16 and Ewing hit two key 3-pointers as No. 8 Duke edged second-ranked North Carolina, 71-70, in an Atlantic Coast Conference thriller that went down to the last possession.
"This was a game befitting this rivalry between two great programs," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Their guys played their hearts out and so did we. It came down to one possession and our defense was great. Their kids never gave up. It was an honor to play against them. It was just good, clean and hard."
After Sean May scored inside and Rashad McCants converted a layup with 51 seconds left to pull North Carolina within one, Redick - one of the nation's best shooters - hoisted up an airball from about 35 feet with the shot clock about to expire.
Following a timeout, point guard Raymond Felton was pressured and forced a pass to David Noel, who lost the ball out of bounds as time expired, sending the crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium into a frenzy.
"The crowd was tremendous," Nelson said. "I got goosebumps all night from how loud the crowd was, and I think in that last possession, the crowd was the loudest I've heard since I've been here, and it was just such a tremendous atmosphere.
"We played some great defense (on the last possession) - J.J. denied Rashad McCants the ball, Daniel Ewing played some great defense on Raymond Felton, and we made them try to do something that they weren't ready for."
It was another frustrating ending for the Tar Heels, who have now lost 15 of the last 17 meetings to their bitter rivals.
"We had three different options (on the last play)," said North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who dropped to 1-6 all-time against Duke. "It was a play we've run before. Rashad made a big three against Connecticut last year, got a drive against North Carolina State, but we had three options."
Duke survived this one despite 36 percent (20-of-56) shooting and being outrebounded, 43-28, by North Carolina. The Blue Devils hit 10-of-25 from the arc and missed just 1-of-22 free throws.
Shelden Williams had 11 points and nine rebounds, and became the first player in Duke history to record five blocks and five steals in one game. Redick, who averaged 27 points in his last seven games, finished 4-of-12 from the floor for Duke, which entered the contest shooting 47 percent and posting a plus-4 rebounding advantage.
The Tar Heels entered the contest as the nation's highest scoring (92.2) team and the conference's top shooting (51.4 percent) team. But the Blue Devils controlled the pace of the game and held the Tar Heels to just 44 percent (25-of-57) shooting while forcing 23 turnovers.
"Handling the basketball and their guys stepping up and making big plays was the key to the game," Roy Williams said. "We can't have 10 assists and 23 turnovers and be the kind of basketball team that we want to be. At the same time, their pressure bothered us. I did not think that their pressure would bother us, but we had five different turnovers just throwing it from point A to point B."
"This game was extremely difficult to win," Redick said. "A game like this where there are two really good teams, there are going to be a lot of errors and guys are going to miss shots. Both teams are pretty good in the defensive halfcourt, but I thought our defense getting back was the difference in the game."
McCants, the team's leading scorer, struggled all night and scored 11 points. Jawad Williams scored just two points - 13 below his average - and Felton committed eight turnovers against just three assists.
"Rashad has really had some great games for us, to say the least," Roy Williams said. "His shots didn't go in tonight. He was 3-for-13, Jawad was 1-for-6. You know, guys that have made a lot of shots for us this year, the ball didn't go in for them tonight."
But May was a force inside for the Tar Heels (19-3, 8-2 ACC), collecting 23 points and 18 rebounds.
With 8 1/2 minutes to play, Ewing hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Nelson made two free throws to give the Blue Devils the lead for good at 61-53. Redick's fourth 3-pointer of the game pushed the advantage to 67-58 four minutes later.
Nelson, who finished one point shy of his season high, scored 12 key points in the second half for the Blue Devils (18-2, 8-2), who tied the Tar Heels atop the conference standings. The teams meet again on March 6 to close the regular season.
"It was obvious that DeMarcus just played at a level, or even a couple of levels, higher than he's played," Krzyzewski said. "He's played well, but he was great tonight. He had 16 points and four steals and he played almost 30 minutes. We really needed that."
Behind its trademark defense, Duke managed a 36-29 lead at the half. The Blue Devils, who used a 20-10 run over the final 7 1/2 minutes, held the Tar Heels to 33 percent (10-of-30) shooting and forced 12 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
McCants hit a 3-pointer five minutes into the second half to tie the game, 38-38, before Redick and Nelson hit consecutive 3-pointers. After North Carolina closed within 51-50, Nelson drove the left baseline for a layup to push the lead to three.