The Blue Devils tried to overcome a first-half deficit, but their Tobacco Road rival always had an answer.

No. 3 Duke fell to No. 17 North Carolina Monday night 89-78 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Once a top-10 team, the Tar Heels entered the contest losers of their last three games. North Carolina responded by leading wire to wire and recording its first victory in Durham since 2008.

Chris Dieckhaus / The Chronicle
“We were tired of losing,” Tar Heel guard Allisha Gray said. “We came out knowing it was a rivalry and wanting to hit first. We got those first couple of baskets and never lost the lead. We just never stopped playing hard.”

Freshman Diamond DeShields, North Carolina’s leading scorer this season, led her team with 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting. She also added five treys on her way to a career night.

Duke was never able to take a lead, as the Tar Heels came out firing from long range right out of the gate, with Gray and forward Xylina McDaniel kicking off a big offensive night with back-to-back shots from beyond the arc.

Trailing 45-34 at halftime, the Blue Devils (22-3, 9-2 in the ACC) emerged from the locker room poised to make a comeback in the early minutes, cutting the lead to just one point with 17:02 to play.

“We mixed things up a little bit, denied [DeShields],” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “They turned the ball over. There were some [good] things going on.”

But following the trend of the night, DeShields responded, draining a 3-pointer to give the Tar Heels (18-6, 6-4) some extra breathing room.

With less than 10 minutes to play, a 7-0 run once again brought Duke within striking distance, but Gray made a three-point play in transition to put North Carolina ahead 66-61 with 8:00 to play.

From there, the Tar Heels would only build on the lead they held throughout the game.

“I feel like we had a lot of times where we were [down] three, five and one, then gave up an easy bucket on the other side,” guard Tricia Liston said. “So every time we got close we were not getting the stops to tie it or go ahead.”

Chris Dieckhaus / The Chronicle
The Blue Devils scored 44 of their points in the paint thanks to career-high 28 points by center Elizabeth Williams. The junior held her own in the paint with seven rebounds and five blocks.

Williams’ play helped keep Duke in the game, even when North Carolina jumped out to an early 10-2 lead in the opening minutes.

Liston struggled in the first half with just seven points. She finished the night with 20 points, but also had four turnovers.

Even when the Tar Heels pulled ahead late in the half by 13 points, Williams managed to score on a jumper with a minute left that helped swing some momentum the Blue Devils’ way before halftime.

Still, the lead was too much to overcome.

“I did not like our sensitivity,” McCallie said. “In this game, you have to be very hungry and go through walls. We really did not do that.”

Defense emerged as an area of major concern for Duke, allowing the Tar Heels to shoot 51.5 percent from the field and knock down 12 shots from beyond the arc.

Transition play did not work in the Blue Devils’ favor, with the Tar Heels scoring 17 fast break points and 28 points of turnovers.

“We are not taking charges. We are not getting into defense,” McCallie saids. “Our transition defense has been awful. The difference in the game is transition defense—getting back, locating people. “

Duke will look to avenge the loss when it heads to Chapel Hill for a March 2 rematch.

But for now, an uneasy feeling rests among a group of players who had never lost to the Tar Heels at home during their time on campus.

“It doesn’t feel good,” Liston said.