Two weeks after squandering an eight-point lead in the final 50 seconds against No. 3 Ohio State at Madison Square Garden, the Irish (10-4, 1-0) managed to hold on to improve to 13-6 against top 10 teams at home under Mike Brey.
The Irish were able to pull the upset despite being without leading scorer Jerian Grant, who was dismissed from school for an academic violation the day after the Ohio State loss.
It was the first loss in an ACC opener for the Blue Devils (11-3, 0-1) in seven seasons.
Rodney Hood led the Blue Devils with 27 points, including making 5 of 10 from 3-point range as Duke was 12 of 28 from beyond the arc.
Duke used a 9-0 run early in the second half to open a 49-40 lead. It started with two free throws by Hood, then three free throws by Quinn Cook when he was fouled on a 3-point attempt. Amile Jefferson and Cook added layups as the Blue Devils started to pull away as the Irish missed five straight shots.
The Blue Devils eventually stretched the lead to 60-50 when Andre Dawkins made a 3 from the top of the key with about 11 minutes left.
But when Notre Dame went to a small lineup Demetrius Jackson hit a 3 to spark the 20-4 run. Atkins tied the game on a layup, then followed that with another basket inside on a pass from Pat Connaughton. Steve Vasturia, who wasn't getting much playing time before Grant was dismissed from the team, hit a 3-pointer to give the Irish a 68-64 lead after Duke freshman Jabari Parker, who struggled all game, badly missed a 3.
The Blue Devils closed within one point twice in the final 2 minutes, but the Irish didn't wilt under the pressure. Atkins made a layup after Duke cut it to 72-71, then Garrick Sherman hit a free throw with 16 seconds left after missing the first. Duke still had a chance to tie the game, but Hood dribbled too deep and when he tried to pass back out it was stolen by Jackson.
Connaughton added 16 points for the Irish and Sherman had 14 as the Irish outscored Duke 44-16 in the paint.
Quinn Cook had 22 points for Duke.
Parker, who grew up 90 miles away in Chicago, failed to score in double figures for the first time this season as he repeatedly missed shots badly. He missed his first four shots, including a 12-foot baseline air ball, and had a jumper blocked by Austin Burgett. Cook looked frustrated at the end of the first half when it appeared Parker ran the wrong play.
Parker finished 2 of 10 from the field as Duke lost despite finishing with 12 3-pointers, just one shy of its season high.
Brey improved to 1-1 against his former boss, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.