CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It wasn’t exhausting for Roy Williams to recap what modified between his group’s first two matchups with Duke, which resulted in dominant North Carolina victories, and what transpired Friday night time, with the Blue Devils edging out a 74-73 win that may effectively have shifted the pecking order for a No. 1 seed within the NCAA match.
“The man that is been harm got here again,” Williams mentioned, “placed on his Superman jersey and was unbelievable.”
“The man” on this case could be Zion Williamson, and North Carolina heard its share about him even earlier than he took the court docket.
Williamson injured his knee Feb. 20 when his sneaker tore on the opening possession of Duke’s first recreation towards the Tar Heels, and the freshman’s absence overshadowed a signature win for UNC. Three weeks later, he sat out the regular-season finale in Chapel Hill, and once more the Heels dominated. So the query loomed: Would UNC nonetheless be the higher group with Duke at full power?
Friday’s victory supplied a solution of types, however not one Williams or the remainder of the Tar Heels had been able to affirm with any sense of certainty.
“He provides a special dimension to their group,” UNC’s Cam Johnson mentioned of Williamson’s return. “He does a whole lot of issues they do not have with out him, so it form of adjustments the best way they play offensively. However they ran the identical form of units, and we received the identical form of pictures we wished as the primary two video games. He is an awesome participant, and he undoubtedly provides one thing for his or her group, however he wasn’t our focus.”
North Carolina (27-6) actually had its possibilities to win even with Williamson on the court docket, a possibility to upend its most hated rival for the third time this season, and an opportunity to erase the cloud that lingered over its first two victories. Johnson shot a three with 18 seconds remaining that would’ve received it, and he was certain it had when it left his hand.
“I would have wager $1,000 proper there that shot was moving into,” he mentioned, “but it surely did not.”
Nor did Coby White‘s closing jumper, and nor Nassir Little‘s putback try. And that was the takeaway for the Heels. With out Williamson, there was no query which group was higher. With him, the distinction was one shot — a shot that felt good leaving Johnson’s hand, however did not fall.
And but, Williamson’s influence was one thing bordering on transcendent. Within the first two video games mixed, Duke (28-5) mustered simply 58 factors within the paint. With Williamson occupying prime actual property Friday, the Blue Devils had 50 — essentially the most UNC has allowed in a recreation in eight years, in line with ESPN Stats & Data analysis.
Williamson completed with 31 factors and 11 rebounds — the primary participant to put up a 25-10 line in consecutive ACC match video games since Tim Duncan, 22 years in the past. His steal that led to a monster dunk was a turning level within the recreation. His final bucket, after corralling his personal miss, was the distinction within the closing rating. His work on each ends of the court docket made Duke a special group.
“He is in a position to open it up rather a lot, and on the defensive finish, too,” Blue Devils level guard Tre Jones mentioned. “He is in a position to guard anyone after we change, and he is on the boards all the time. He simply flies round.”
Williamson helped cowl for Cam Reddish, who was minus-11 for the sport with 5 turnovers. And his success within the paint overshadowed RJ Barrett‘s 5-of-15 taking pictures night time. It might’ve been Barrett’s two misses on the free throw line with 12 seconds to play that outlined the sport. As a substitute, it was his resolution to move up a play designed for him and dish to Williamson for the sport’s closing factors that proved decisive.
Duke now takes on Florida State on Saturday for an opportunity on the ACC title. The Blue Devils have only one loss with their full beginning 5 on the court docket, and that makes a robust case for the NCAA match choice committee to place them on the highest line and ship them to close by Columbia, South Carolina — simply down the street from Williamson’s hometown of Spartanburg.
Or maybe the primary two video games towards UNC with out Williamson nonetheless carry weight with the committee. Williams made that case after Friday’s loss, noting that “accidents are part of it, too.”
Added ahead Luke Maye: “We had a tricky loss, however we’re nonetheless an awesome group. We have six extra video games, hopefully.”
And after Friday’s prizefight, it is likely to be that the ultimate resolution on which group is healthier can be made after one more rematch within the NCAA match.
“Would I like to see them? Truthfully, if we match up towards them, it’s going to be an awesome recreation,” Williamson mentioned. “However I am not going to take a seat right here and say, ‘Oh my God, I hope we are able to play them once more.’ I am not beginning any further drama.”