CHARLOTTE — It's No. 1 Duke with an exclamation mark.
The Blue Devils (32-1) erased recent disappointments in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament by blasting arch-rival and No. 15 North Carolina 96-73 in the championship game Sunday behind 29 points from William Avery and 24 from Elton Brand.
Duke, which won its 27th straight, was 2-6 in title games coming in against the two-time defending ACC champion Tar Heels (24-9). But the Blue Devils shot 60 percent in the opening half with injured 3-point ace Trajan Langdon on the bench to go up by as many as 16 in the opening 20 minutes.
The stellar start by Duke came despite the Tar Heels seeking revenge from a 20-point whipping Duke placed on them eight days ago in the Smith Center.
Duke's lead reached as many as 24 with a 10-0 run to start the second half as Brand scored on a shot in the lane and a dunk, and Avery sank a 24-foot 3-pointer.
But the Tar Heels had one more rally in them before running out of gas against one of the more talented teams in ACC history. A 14-0 run by North Carolina got them back in the game, closing to within nine with 10:28 left.
Duke, however, sensed a piece of ACC history and went for the kill.
A 12-4 run sealed it as Avery had a layup and a 3-pointer, while Brand scored on a pair of free throws and another close in basket as Duke became the first ACC team to go a combined 19-0 in the regular season and league tourney.
It was the first time since Duke did it 11 years ago that a team swept the Tar Heels three games in a season. Max Owens led North Carolina with 22 points.
The opening pace certainly favored Duke. The Blue Devils started fast from 3-point range, nailing three from beyond the arc in the game's first 2:42 - a move that would open up the middle later in the half for Shane Battier and Brand.
A steal and fastbreak layup by Avery midway through the half gave the Blue Devils a 27-14 lead before the Tar Heels responded with an 11-1 run to close within three.
But Duke responded following a 20-second timeout by coach Mike Krzyzewski with a 12-2 run of their own, getting a shot in the lane and a baseline jumper by Brand to open the rally, while Avery nailed a 3-pointer and fed Battier for a three-play play and it was 40-27 four minutes before intermission.
The lead grew to as many as 16 in the closing minutes of the half as Avery, taking over the outside game in the absence of Langdon, sank another 3-pointer before Duke settled for 49-35 lead.