CHARLOTTE, NC – It was not difficult for Roy Williams to recap what had changed between his team's first two encounters with Duke, which resulted in a dominant victory in North Carolina, and what happened unfolded Friday night, while the Blue Devils led 74-73. win that might well have changed the order of ranking for a # 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"The guy who got hurt came back," Williams said, "put on his Superman jersey and was amazing."
"The guy" in this case would be Zion Williamson, and North Carolina heard his share about it even before he appeared in court.
Williamson injured his knee on February 20 when his basketball shoe was torn during the initial possession of Duke's first game against the Tar Heels, and the rookie's absence overshadowed a signing victory for A C. Three weeks later, he was not in the regular season finale at Chapel Hill, where the Heels were again dominant. So the question was: would UNC always be the best team with Duke at full power?
Friday's win offered an answer, but none of Williams or Tar Heels was ready to say with certainty.
"He adds another dimension to their team," said Cam Johnson of UNC about Williamson's return. "He does a lot of things that they do not have without him, so it changes their playing a little bit on the offensive, but they ran the same kind of sets, and we had the same kind of shots we wanted like in the first two games. " He's a great player and he really adds something to their team, but it was not our goal. "
North Carolina (27-6) certainly had chances to win even with Williamson on the field, an opportunity to defeat his most hated rival for the third time in a season, and a chance to clear the cloud that's attached to his first two victories. . Johnson fired a 3 with 18 seconds remaining that could have won him, and he was sure that was when he left his hand.
"I would have bet $ 1,000 just where the shot was going to go," he said, "but that's not the case."
The last jumper of Coby White either, nor the attempt of putback of Nassir Little. And that was the delivery for the heels. Without Williamson, there was no question of which team was the best. With him, the difference was one shot – a shot that just seemed to leave Johnson's hand, but did not fall.
And yet, the impact of Williamson was at the limit of the transcendent. In the first two games combined, Duke (28 years and over) has accumulated only 58 points. With Williamson occupying the top property on Friday, the Blue Devils had 50 – the highest number of passes allowed by the UNC in eight years, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.
Williamson finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds – the first player to post a 25-10 line in consecutive ACC games since Tim Duncan 22 years ago. His flight that led to a monster dunk was a turning point in the game. His last bucket, after missing his miss, was the difference in the final score. His work at both ends of the field made Duke a different team.
"He's able to open it a lot, and also on the defensive side," said Blue Devils point guard Tre Jones. "He's able to keep anyone when we change, and he's always on the boards – he's just stealing."
Williamson helped cover Cam Reddish, who was minus 11 for the game with five turnovers. And his success in painting eclipsed RJ Barrett's 5 out of 15 shooting night. It could have been Barrett's two missed shots on the free throw line with 12 seconds left to play that defined the game. Instead, his decision was to drop a game designed for him and make a dish to Williamson for the final decisive points of the game.
Duke now faces Florida State on Saturday to try his luck under the ACC. The Blue Devils have only one in five defeats on the field, and the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has every interest in placing them on the front row and sending them to Columbia, South Carolina – just down the road from Spartanburg, the hometown of Williamson.
Or maybe the first two games without Williamson will still have weight for the committee. Williams pleaded this case after Friday's defeat, noting that "injuries are also part of it".
And after Friday's fights, it may be that the final decision as to which team will be better will be taken after another rematch in the NCAA tournament.
"Would I want to see them?" Honestly, if we face each other, it will be a great match, "said Williamson. "But I will not stay here and say:" Oh my God, I hope we can play again. " I do not start any extra drama. "