Coach Mike Krzyzewski wasn’t sure if his team had ever done it before, but he seemed happy that they did.
After humiliating rival North Carolina with an 82-50 stomping Saturday night, Duke’s players cut down the nets at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Fourth-ranked Duke (26-5, 13-3 ACC) had captured a share of the ACC regular-season championship and the No. 1 seed for this week’s ACC Tournament.
The players wore T-shirts designed by junior forward Kyle Singler trumpeting the Blue Devils’ 17-0 record at home. And on the senior night of Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek, they celebrated by removing souvenirs for themselves from the rims at Cameron.
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“We wanted to do it, and I feel like it was something we deserve,” Thomas said. “No other Duke team has been 17-0 at home. And it wasn’t easy.”
Actually, the 17th win was easy. The 32-point margin marked North Carolina’s largest in a loss at Duke and was just three points short of the most lopsided defeat for the Tar Heels in the series.
Led by Singler’s 25 points, the Blue Devils dominated virtually every phase of the game for a win that had significance for Krzyzewski’s program in several ways.
Duke completed its first season sweep of the series since 2004, which was coach Roy Williams’ first season at North Carolina.
The Blue Devils also tied Maryland (23-7, 13-3) for the ACC regular-season title and clinched the No. 1 seed for the ACC Tournament, which starts Thursday in Greensboro.
Duke will play the Boston College-Virginia winner at noon in Friday’s quarterfinals. North Carolina (16-15, 5-11) will be the No. 10 seed and will meet seventh-seeded Georgia Tech at 7 p.m. Thursday in a first-round game.
Williams said the Tar Heel players can learn from the loss, but only if they’re committed to changing their behavior.
“Early in the game we didn’t want to give them open threes,” Williams said. “Then they made three of them in the first three minutes.”
Scheyer and Smith both scored 20 points and combined for 12 assists and no turnovers. Seven-foot-1 center Zoubek continued his late-season surge with 13 rebounds as Duke posted a 37-28 advantage on the boards.
An intense Duke defense held North Carolina to 11 points in the first 12 minutes as the Blue Devils ran out to a 20-point lead and extended it to 53-26 at halftime.
“That was one of the best games we’ve played all year,” Krzyzewski said. “Our defensive intensity was great throughout.”
Even the shots that don’t usually fall for Duke seemed to find their way into the basket. Zoubek swished a sweeping hook shot from the baseline. Freshman Andre Dawkins, known primarily for his 3-point shot, banked home a driving layup.
John Henson led North Carolina with 14 points, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
With 2:36 remaining, Krzyzewski took Scheyer out of the game and stood smiling, hands on hips, as his point guard came to the bench. Scheyer hugged Krzyzewski and his teammates before taking a seat.
“We just imposed our will,” Scheyer said happily after the game.
For four seasons, Duke’s seniors have been trying to build toward this moment. They talked all season about wanting to finish first in the ACC for the first time in their time at the school.
The Blue Devils finished a disappointing 8-8 in the ACC when they were freshmen in 2007 on a team that didn’t have a senior scholarship player and didn’t survive a first-round NCAA Tournament game against Virginia Commonwealth.
They watched as North Carolina took control of the rivalry with five wins in their first six games, which included part of a four-game Tar Heel winning streak on Duke’s home floor. That ended Saturday night, and the players though it was appropriate to cut down the nets to celebrate.
“There’s no better feeling than this,” Thomas said. “The campus going to be crazy. And we worked for this.”