Duke went on runs of 17-4 and 23-12 en route to a 21-point halftime lead and coasted past Carolina, 75-63, before a crowd of 23,745 at the Greensboro Coliseum on Saturday.
"During the first half they shot the ball extremely well," said UNC (17-15) coach Matt Doherty. "Some of that was our poor defense, but they are a great shooting team.
"Our kids didn't quit and that was important to me and anybody that follows Carolina basketball."
Duke, the third seed this weekend, did its damage with May in and out of the lineup, although the Blue Devils (23-6) had a bit less success inside with him on the floor. But it really didn't matter.
The Devils nailed eight of its 11 first-half 3-pointers and shot 60.6 percent from the field overall in the opening 20 minutes because nearly all of their shots were lightly contested by the seventh-seeded Tar Heels. In fact, it got so bad for UNC during one particular stretch that Duke junior big man Nick Horvath sank a wide open 3 on the left baseline off an inbounds play.
And when the Devils weren't dialing long distance they were penetrating past the slower – on this day – Tar Heels, getting layups and drawing fouls.
"We just didn't react well on defense today," Rashad McCants said. "We played hard, we just didn't play well."
The Tar Heels did cut the margin to 66-51 with 5:24 remaining, but essentially were done after they created a turnover near mid-court but Jackie Manuel missed an open layup. Duke got the rebound and held off the Heels the rest of the way for the victory.
"We kept fighting even though we were down," Manuel said. "But I couldn't see the basket [on that play] because I got poked in the eye right before. So I just missed it."
But this was about Duke's runs and Carolina's apparent lethargy. Duke's 17-4 run turned an 8-7 deficit into a 24-12 advantage with 10:34 left in the first half as J.J. Redick sank a pair of 3s and senior center Casey Sanders had a rare five-point spurt.
Moments later, Duke's margin had wilted to 31-23 and Carolina appeared to have some momentum, but the Devils answered, striking quickly on a pair baskets by Sean Dockery, free throws, a Daniel Ewing driving layup, a Shelden Williams soft lay-in, a 3 by Ewing, and another 3 by Duhon, and Duke led 51-31 with 58 seconds left in the half.
"They were getting some good looks," Manuel said. "I don't know. I think yesterday's game took a lot out of us. The energy wasn't there."
It took until the lead got to 20 before Doherty called a timeout.
Redick then drilled a 3 with one second before the first-half horn sounded, and the Blue Devils headed to the locker room holding a 54-33 advantage.
"They came out with great intensity and built a great lead and it was just to hard for us to come back from," David Noel said.
Ewing led Duke with 19 points while Williams added 11 and Dahntay Jones chipped in 10.
Carolina was paced by Raymond Felton's 18-point effort. Jawad Williams scored 13 points and Rashad McCants added 11 for the Heels, who are now likely headed to the NIT next week.
But now the Heels must turn their attention to the NIT, which is likely their next destination.
"Yeah, I mean, somewhat," Noel said when asked if it will be hard getting up for it. "It's not really a goal. Nobody wants to come to Carolina to go to the NIT. But at the same time it's postseason play and we are going to do our best to build on it."
With May back it does give the Heels a chance to play some games with him, and build a little toward next year.
"For this team going into next year, building more chemistry [is key]," May said. "It was hard, they had to re-adjust when I went out. And now that I am back I have to try to adjust to them. As long as we're playing it's always a positive."
But for now, they will think about this loss, and what might have been.
Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He also covers the ACC for the Wilmington Star-News/Morning Star and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.