By Joedy McCreary
The Associated Press
DURHAM, N.C. — Marcus Paige knows the difference between being on a losing team and being on a team that lost.
At different times this season, No. 14 North Carolina has been both of them.
The Tar Heels’ 12-game winning streak came to a decisive end Saturday night and their fiercest rivals were the ones to end it, No. 4 Duke beating them 93-81.
But the vibe in the locker room wasn’t anything like it was the last time North Carolina lost — when a Jan. 20 defeat at Virginia gave the Tar Heels a 1-4 start to Atlantic Coast Conference play.
“I definitely remember being 0-3 and 1-4 (in the league), and that feeling is not going through this locker room,” Paige said. “We know we still have a chance to make some noise later on, and this isn’t going to change that.”
Paige — who led UNC’s second-half comeback two weeks ago — finished this one with 24 points, while Brice Johnson had 15 and James Michael McAdoo added 13 for the Tar Heels (23-8, 13-5).
They shot nearly 60 percent — their highest in a loss since 1986 — but couldn’t overcome their disadvantage on the glass and now are locked into the No. 4 seed in the league tournament.
North Carolina’s previous three wins were by a combined seven points.
“It’s hard to realize you’re starting to slip with your level of play when you keep winning,” Paige said. “Maybe this is a wakeup call to show us that the last three or four games our effort level and our execution have gone down a little bit. Now that will hit home for us.”
Freshman phenom Jabari Parker scored a season-high 30 points and Rodney Hood added 24 points to help Duke (24-7, 13-5) clinch the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Duke never trailed, shot 51 percent — 57 percent in the second half — and dominated the ACC’s best team on the glass, outrebounding North Carolina 34-20 — the Tar Heels’ fewest in a game since 1987.
“I think at the end of the day, it just came down to our want-to against their want-to, and it just wasn’t there — the sense of urgency,” McAdoo said.
Leslie McDonald added 12 points for North Carolina.
The Tar Heels were denied their fourth win over a top-five team, but they briefly made things tense in the final minutes when Paige converted a four-point play to make it 81-73 with 2:50 left.
But the point guard missed 3s on the next two possessions — with Parker blocking the second of those with 2 1/2 minutes left.
Quinn Cook hit two free throws, Amile Jefferson added another and Parker hit two foul shots with 2:03 left to push the lead to 86-73 and effectively end it.
Cook finished with 11 points and Rasheed Sulaimon added 10.
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