Zion Williamson leads Duke to victory

Aubrey Yates
March 16, 2019

Zion Williamson made the difference for fifth-ranked Duke in its third matchup with rival North Carolina.

"The guy" in this case would be Zion Williamson, and North Carolina heard its share about him even before he took the court.

North Carolina did not shoot the ball well from beyond the arc (4-for-27), and instead of winning battles inside like it did in the two wins against Duke, the Tar Heels were outscored 50-38 in the paint.

For UNC, Johnson racked up a team-high 23.

"He put on his Superman jersey", UNC coach Roy Williams said.

For what it's worth, the last single-season three-game sweep in this rivalry came in 2002, with Duke easily winning all three. "He's a great player, and he definitely adds something for their team, but he wasn't our focus".

We were robbed of what could have truly been a magical three-game series 30 seconds into the first contest, but we still got two solid home-and-home regular-season meetings to make up for it. "I didn't know he was going to dunk that one".

Nor did Coby White's final jumper, and nor Nassir Little's putback attempt. Duke, while obviously much better with Williamson, was clearly one of the country's best teams without him, too.

And yet, Williamson's impact was something bordering on transcendent.

"I mean it was tough watching the first two (Duke-UNC) games, wishing I could go to war with them", said Williamson, who was hurt in the opening minute of the first meeting February 20.

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Duke: This tournament has largely been about Williamson's return from the injury that had sidelined him for almost six full games, and what it means for the Blue Devils going forward.

The 6-foot-7, 285-pound freshman - who barely played in one regular-season loss to UNC and not at all in the second - finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds for the Blue Devils (28-5). His steal that led to a monster dunk was a turning point in the game. From there, however, Duke ended the half on a 24-11 run. "He just flies around".

Throughout the year, but especially this weekend after missing the previous five-plus games due to a knee sprain, Williamson has displayed extraordinary athleticism.

Despite a pair of missed free throws by RJ Barrett down the stretch, Duke triumphed.

Williamson was a star all night with a game-high 31.

The game is scheduled to start around 9 p.m. ET (depending on when Virginia vs Florida State ends) and will be televised on ESPN. Little's follow attempt was off and Duke lived to duel Saturday against Florida State for what could be the Blue Devils' league-leading 21 ACC tournament title.

All that said, UNC won those first two games for a reason. Seniors Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams have collectively accounted for 47 percent of North Carolina's scoring this season. "We've got six more games, hopefully". Never before have these two teams faced each other at any stage of the NCAA tournament.

"Would I love to see them?"

"It was obvious that our kids were really locked in for this game, and a lot of it is because we have such a tremendous amount of respect for the job that Tony does and the legacy he's built at Virginia", Seminoles Coach Leonard Hamilton said of the ACC coach of the year. "But I'm not going to sit here and say, 'Oh my God, I hope we can play them again.' I'm not starting any extra drama".

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