CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Zion Williamson had a night.
Alright, that’s a little understated considering how the freshman forward helped push Duke past Syracuse in an 84-72 quarterfinal victory on Thursday night.
Playing for the first time after missing five games due to a sprained knee injury, Williamson simply picked up where he left off.
The near-capacity crowd at Spectrum Center wasn’t disappointed when he proceeded to post a double-double performance – 29 points, 14 rebounds – to go with a perfect 13-of-13 shooting performance that set an ACC Tournament record.
RJ Barrett added 23 points and six rebounds and helped Duke (27-5) set up a semifinal showdown with No. 3 North Carolina on Friday.
The other observations of Williamson’s play included a handful of dunks (two one-handers and three two-handers), an impressive 3-pointer, five steals, and a block.
Barrett’s two assists on the night helped his teammate soar to the basket early as Duke eventually led 34-28 at halftime.
The Orange were not phased by Williamson’s performance, and held strong in their zone defense that eventually created turnovers that helped them pull even in the early part of the second half.
Frank Howard scored 28 points, and Buddy Boeheim had 15 for the Orange who tied it with 13 minutes remaining on back-to-back 3-pointers from Boeheim.
The comeback effort was impressive and could’ve made Williamson’s lone shortfall, a 2-of-9 shooting finish at the free throw line, a story if the Blue Devils lost.
But they didn’t.
Duke wore down Syracuse down the stretch between the inside game of Williamson and the shooting of Barrett while guard Tre Jones added 15 points and eight assists to cap the win off.
Syracuse now awaits an NCAA Tournament berth while Duke faces North Carolina for a third time this season.
The Tar Heels swept both games from the Blue Devils in the regular season, 88-72 on the road and 79-70 at home, with Williamson injured in the first minute of the first meeting.
What they said
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski
“We’re obviously really pleased to advance. Getting, we still don’t have our full team back, but getting Zion back after missing almost a month is huge.
“I thought we played great defense for about 12, 14 minutes in the first half and then when we had some transition, we had about three in a row where we didn’t get, we made mistakes, we had a 15, 17 point lead and that gave them some momentum and then they can shoot. They put a lot of game pressure on us, our guys responded in the second half. Goldwire was a big spark for us and 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 a shooting position. So that helped. And these guys did a good job of responding under pressure.”
”Well he (Williamson) was himself, so let him be himself not like anyone else, and just like all these kids. And then take advantage of the moment you get a chance to see them as they’re developing into the players that they’re supposed, that they’re going to be.
“For me, I love the fact of being part of that process for a short period of time and that’s why I never try to make them like somebody else. They didn’t come to Duke to be a four or a three or like Jason Tatum or Brandon Ingram, they came to see who they were going to become and let’s see what happens.”
- Duke improved to 101-45 all-time in the ACC Tournament and to 43-18 in quarterfinal games.
- Syracuse (20-13) slipped to 2-5 in ACC Tournament play and to 0-2 in the quarterfinal round.
- With 23 points, Barrett extended his ACC freshman single-season scoring record to 747 points, and is the only player in the conference who has scored in double figures in each of his team’s games this season.
- Duke and North Carolina have played 22 times in the ACC Tournament with the Blue Devils holding a 13-9 edge. This will mark the third straight season the teams have met in the semifinals after meeting in back-to-back years at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Duke defeated the Tar Heels 93-83 in 2017, and UNC won 74-69 last season.
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport