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Zion Williamson Returns, Stuns, Leads Duke To 84-72 Win Over Syracuse

He is not like the rest of us. Period.

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NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs Syracuse
 Mar 14, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Syracuse Orange forward Oshae Brissett (11) and Duke Blue Devils forward Zion Williamson (1) chase a ball in the first half in the ACC conference tournament at Spectrum Center.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Zion Williamson scored 29 points in a historic return from sprained-knee purgatory Thursday night, leading Duke to an 84-72 win over Syracuse in the ACC quarter-finals.

And Duke needed every single last one of them.

There actually were three games for the price of one. Duke outscored Syracuse by 17 in the first one and by a dozen in the last one. But the ‘Cuse dominated the middle one, pulling even early in the second half after falling into a 17-point hole.

Williamson started the game and played a whopping 35:29, far more than Duke wanted. But for much of the game Williamson and R.J. Barrett provided pretty much all of Duke’s offense.

“I knew I was ready to come back a couple of days ago,” Williamson said. “There was never any pressure to rush back when I wasn’t ready. I felt ready a few days ago and it was good to get back.”

Williamson made all 13 of his field-goal attempts, grabbed 14 rebounds, with five steals and a block.

When asked if it was a perfect night, Williamson laughed and noted his two-for-nine foul shooting by saying he couldn’t throw a tennis ball in the ocean from the line.

The win sets up a third meeting tomorrow night with North Carolina, a chance to avenge two regular-season losses to the Tar Heels, burnish their case for a top seed and give Williamson more time to regain his pre-injury conditioning and form.

Virginia and Florida State meet in the first semifinal.

Duke was sloppy early, committing turnovers on their first two possessions. A Williamson steal and dunk gave Duke 4-3 lead but the Blue Devils went 4:30 without a field goal and fell behind 9-6.

Williamson turned it on, tying the game at 9-9 on a stick-back, a monster dunk making it 14-9 and a three-pointer making it 17-11 at the second media timeout.

Duke hounded Syracuse into live-ball turnovers, which turned into transition baskets and when it reached 32-15, it looked like it might be a laugher.

But there were some issues. Williamson and Barrett scored 24 of Duke’s first 25 points. Barrett and Cam Reddish picked up two fouls and had to sit a spell.

Then Duke started turning it over and Frank Howard almost single-handedly willed Syracuse back in the game, scoring 10 points in less than two minutes.

“I thought we played great defense for about 12, 14 minutes,” Mike Krzyzewski said, “and then we had some transition , we had about three in a row, where we didn’t get, we made mistakes . . . and gave them some momentum.”

A Buddy Boeheim three-pointer made it 34-28 at intermission,

Syracuse closed the first half on 13-2 run.

The halftime stats were not for the faint-hearted.

Duke shot three-for-12 on threes, five-for-11 from the foul line, Syracuse shot one-for-six from the foul line. Each team had 11 turnovers. .

Everybody not named Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett shot one-for-12 for Duke, an Alex O’Connell three the outlier. In fact, O’Connell was Duke’s third-leading scorer in the first half, with those three points.

Reddish finally hit a three early in the second half and Duke went up 37-29. But before he could get in a roll, Reddish picked up his third and fourth fouls and took a seat on the bench.

Syracuse tied the game at 46 seven minutes into the half, completing a 31-14 comeback.

Two things turned it around.

Tre Jones spent the first 25 minutes as a facilitator. But with Reddish in foul trouble and no one other than Williamson and Barrett providing offense, Jones started looking for his shot.

“My teammates kept believing in me, coaches kept believing in me as well, kept telling me to take my shot when it comes, keep being aggressive. I knew that I was going to have to step up in the second half for us to get back to playing how we want to play.”

After a scoreless first half, Jones hit a floater in the lane for 40-33, another to make it 50-47 and a huge three-pointer to make it 63-55.

Syracuse had caught up but they never took the lead.

And Jones had help on the defensive end from Jordan Goldwire, who played much of the stretch.

“Goldwire was a big spark for us,” Krzyzewski said, “because we had foul trouble. And Boeheim--Buddy--was really shooting well and Goldwire, once he went in it was hard for him to get the ball in shooting position.”

Goldwire picked up two steals, turning one into a three-point play. He added another layup and two assists.

Duke closed it out from the line, Jones eight-for-eight in the second half.


Duke was asked a lot about shoes. Krzyzewski praised Nike and added that Williamson would be changing shoes more often.

Barrett added 23 points and six rebounds. Jones had 15 points, eight assists and a couple of steals. In fact, Duke had 14 steals.

Javin DeLaurier grabbed eight rebounds, blocked three shots and hit two big foul shots to put Duke up 52-47, with about 11 minutes left, one of a number of big plays that stalled the Syracuse comeback.

Syracuse played without leading scorer Tyus Battle, out with a sore back. Jim Boeheim said that Battle would be back next week, in time for the NCAAs.

No such update for Marques Bolden.

Syracuse also got only seven minutes from 7-2 Paschal Chukwu, their intimidating starting center, who couldn’t get out of his own way and was called for five fouls.

Howard led Syracuse with 28 points but with six turnovers. Boeheim added 15, Oshae Brissett 14.


“I’m very excited just to be a part of the game and looking at going to compete.”

What, you were expecting bulletin-board material from Williamson?


Player Of The Game vs. Syracuse

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Javin DeLaurier
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    RJ Barrett
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Cam Reddish
    (7 votes)
  • 91%
    Zion Williamson
    (1210 votes)
  • 0%
    Tre Jones
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    Jack White
    (8 votes)
  • 5%
    Jordan Goldwire
    (76 votes)
  • 0%
    Alex O’ Connell
    (8 votes)
1319 votes total Vote Now
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