CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Finally healthy and back in training, Zion Williamson left his impact on the rivalry between Duke and North Carolina, leading the Blue Devils to a 74-73 win. .
Williamson led all scorers with 31 points on 13 shots for 19, adding 11 rebounds. And when the Blue Devils needed a shot in the last minute, Mike Krzyzewski handed the ball to Zion. After leading the basket against the UNC rookie, Nassir Little, Williamson's first try was missed. But then nobody had more rebound than Williamson, who managed to beat everyone's score to give Duke a one-point lead with 31 seconds left in the rest of the game.
"It was hard to watch the first two games," said Williamson after the match. "I watched my brothers fight and I wanted to be able to make war with them, but it was very exciting to go out there to play, I mean the rivalry was up to of my expectations. "
"And I mean, to make the winning move, honestly, I have to give credit to RJ (Barrett, freshman Duke) because the reading allowed him to rig the ball and carry it to the basket, but he read the defense and he gave me the ball, and my team mates trusted me to make the shot. "
A building cluttered with two shades of blue seemed to agree on one thing throughout the evening: during a match between two of the best teams from all over the country, there was no doubt that the best player on the field. Duke fans cheered and North Carolina fans could not help but scream with exasperation and fear as Williamson leapt onto the field, emerging from the transition and jumping around the basket for play thoroughly.
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When Zion went upstairs, the 20,000 or so people gathered in the Spectrum Center (a record attendance for a college basketball game in the building) held their breath. When Sion threw a dunk, the place jumped.
Barrett, who gave notes and notes for Zion's dunks all year, awarded him the highest distinction.
"The one he's had today where he took off in front of the key during the quick break, I give him a 10," Barrett said with a smile. "I did not know he was going to dive that one – it was difficult."
What made the evening all the more special was that while Williamson was putting on a show, North Carolina was speeding up and providing an answer every time the Blue Devils tried to make their way. It was a fight for the non-championship title on the line, a game that gave the impression that it meant everything, even if the result only changed the prospects of seeding for two teams already considered a No. 1 or a No. 2. The NCAA tournament field of 68 is revealed on the Sunday of the selection.
"The guy who was injured came back and put on his superman jersey again and was amazing," said North Carolina coach Roy Williams after the game. "It's such a mixture of strength, power and speed that we could not prevent it from getting the basketball back and going to the basket."
North Carolina did not shoot well beyond the arc (4 vs. 27) and instead of winning indoor battles as it did in the two victories against Duke, the Tar Heels were outclassed by 50-38 in the paint set. Williams said most of the games won by his teams were due to a superb shot or a good balance, and he did not have the impression of getting it either, lamenting the fact. Impatience of the offensive and several possessions that ended as a result of a hasty shot.
With this win, Duke qualifies for Saturday's championship game against Florida StateVirginia in the first semifinal of the evening. Although the Blue Devils do not have the opportunity to complete their three-game series against Virginia, Jerry Palm, parenting expert at CBS Sports, said the Blue Devils could still outpace the Wahoos and eventually take first place in the general classification.