The freshman forward bounced back from his worst outing of the season with 25 points in the third-ranked Blue Devils' 70-65 victory over No. 14 North Carolina on Saturday night.
"He's a freshman. People keep forgetting that," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "The same freshman who was 1-for-14 on Wednesday gave one of the great performances in a Duke-Carolina game. He was sensational. To go 12-for-16 and respond after that type of game the way he did was phenomenal. That sets him apart."
The game was another great one in what many consider the best rivalry in college basketball.
"These kids lived up to the hype of what a Duke-Carolina game should be," Krzyzewski said.
The Blue Devils (25-4, 13-3) had already clinched the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title for the sixth time in eight years, but they were coming off a rare home loss.
Georgia Tech beat Duke 76-68 on Wednesday night to snap the Blue Devils' 41-game home winning streak, the longest in the nation. With a new streak started, Duke can now look to win its sixth straight ACC tournament championship next week.
The win was the 14th in 16 games for Duke against North Carolina (18-9, 8-8), including an 83-81 overtime victory in Chapel Hill on Feb. 5.
"These will be very similar to the kind of comments I made over at our place," first-year North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "If you like college basketball you had to enjoy that. The problem is I pull extremely hard for our team. After going 1-for-14, I think Deng was extremely motivated to play exceptionally well and I thought he showed he's one of the premier, not just freshman, but premier players in the country."
Senior guard Chris Duhon came up with an exceptional defensive performance on North Carolina's Rashad McCants in the second half.
McCants, the leading scorer in the ACC at 19.9 per game, had 20 points for the Tar Heels, but he got 16 in the opening 22 minutes and the rest in the final 1:37. In between he was covered by Duhon, whose layup with 6.1 seconds left was the game-winner in the first meeting.
"The best way to stop him is not to let him touch the ball," Duhon said. "When he has the ball is when he's dangerous."
McCants couldn't keep the ball on one of the biggest possessions of the game.
McCants, who had 13 points as the Tar Heels took a 33-30 halftime lead, scored down low with 46 seconds left to make it 68-65. Duke worked the shot clock down and Daniel Ewing missed a 3 from the corner. North Carolina came down, McCants lost the ball near the top of the key and J.J. Redick grabbed the loose ball and called a timeout with 4.4 seconds to go.
"It would have been nice if Rashad could have handled the ball there and got it to someone for a 3 since he had two men on him, but he lost the ball and J.J. made a dive on the floor and came up with the ball," Williams said.
McCants thought he was fouled.
"I was about to pull up for a 3 and just got pounded," he said. "There was no call. They got the ball so ..."
Krzyzewski said Redick is "known for his shooting but his biggest play at Duke is a loose ball and he had the wherewithal to call a timeout.
"It's fitting a loose ball decided this game," Krzyzewski said.
Deng scored mostly inside.
"I couldn't do anything to bring back the Georgia Tech game except to just look forward and try to improve from it," he said. "Even though it was a horrible feeling, I learned a lot from it."
Neither team led by more than six points in the second half. The last tie was at 56, and Duke broke from that with a 6-0 run capped by a steal and layup by Duhon, who had 12 points in his final home game.
North Carolina finished fifth in the ACC.
Redick had 15 points for Duke, going 6-for-6 from the free throw line over the final 5:24. His last two came with 2.7 seconds left and the Blue Devils up 68-65.
Sean May had 15 points and 14 rebounds for the Tar Heels, while David Noel added 12 points. North Carolina, which had won four of its last five, finished with a 43-31 rebound advantage, including 20-9 on the offensive end.
McCants was coming off a 30-point effort, including a career-high eight 3-pointers, against Clemson.
"For us to hold a team like Carolina in an up-tempo game to 65 points, I think that was great," Redick said. "McCants got his. May got his, but they really had to work for it."
The Tar Heels were affected by the limited performance of point guard Raymond Felton, who sustained a hip pointer with 5:57 left in the first half. He played 29 minutes, 17 in the second half, and was 2-for-7 from the field with four points, three assists and six turnovers.
"I couldn't really move like I wanted to," said Felton, who leads the ACC in assists. "I didn't really have the speed that I wanted to. But I went out there, I played, so that's no excuse."
It was Williams' first trip to Cameron as the head coach of the Tar Heels and he heard it from the Cameron Crazies with plenty of references to Kansas, his former employer.
The crowd featured a number of former Duke stars, including Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley, and one billionaire, Donald Trump, who sat in the first row under the basket.