by David Cassilo / @dcassilo

Back in their first meeting North Carolina held a 14-point halftime lead on Duke but fell apart in the second half. This time around the Tar Heels finished what they started, dominating the game from start to finish, winning 81-67.

Despite 30 points from Nolan Smith, Duke proved no match for the more athletic Tar Heels. It was the freshmen leading the way for Roy Williams’ squad as Harrison Barnes followed up his game-winning jumper on Wednesday night with a team-high 18 points on Saturday.

But the player that has North Carolina rolling right now is point guard Kendall Marshall. He recorded his first career double-double with 15 points and 11 assists on Saturday. Since being inserted into the team’s starting lineup, North Carolina is 12-1.

For a team that underachieved last season, winning the ACC title this year felt even sweeter.

From the News & Observer:

And as the final minute wound down, and the crowd started chanting “ACC! ACC!,” and the Tar Heels had to start dodging the rushing crowd, Henson and his teammates couldn’t help by be proud.

“After the NIT, I never could have imagined this,’’ the sophomore said. “This is my first championship thing, and we just want to keep being hungry.”

Perhaps no team has improved more during the course of season than the Tar Heels. After a poor showing early in the season in Puerto Rico, many experts had North Carolina pegged for a repeat of last season. But Williams has righted the ship, and the Tar Heels enter their conference tournament as hot as any team in the country.