CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It's not difficult for Roy Williams to recap what has changed between the first two games of his squad with duke, which ended in dominant North Carolina wins, and what happened Friday night, with the Blue Devils on a 74-73 victory that could have changed the order of rank for a No. 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 Zion Williamsonand North Carolina heard his share of him even before he took the court.
Williamson suffered a knee injury on February 20, when his basketball shoe was torn apart when he owned Duke's first game against the Tar Heels. His absence eclipsed a signature victory for UNC. 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 certainly had a chance to win even with Williamson on the court, an opportunity to defeat his most hated rival for the third time in a season, and a chance to clear the cloud that clung 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."
Not more than Coby WhiteThe last rider neither Nassir LittleThe attempt to push back And this 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, Duke had only 58 points. With Williamson occupying the top real estate Friday, the Blue Devils had 50 – the highest number of points allowed by the UNC in eight years, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
For the game, 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 on the defensive side too," the playmaker Tre Jones I said. "He's able to keep anyone when we change, and he's always on the boards – he's just stealing."
Williamson helped cover Reddish cam, who was -11 for the match with five turnovers. And his success in painting overshadowed R.J. Barrett's Night Shot 5 out of 15. It's perhaps Barrett's two missed at-line free throws with 12 seconds to play that defined the game. Instead, he decided to switch to a game designed for him and make a dish for Williamson for the final decisive points of the game.
Duke now faces Florida State to try his luck under the ACC. The Blue Devils have only one defeat in the first five games in the field, which favors selection by the selection committee, which will put them on the front row and send them to Columbia, South Carolina – across the street from the hometown of Williamson, Spartanburg.
Or maybe the first two games without Williamson will still have weight for the committee. Williams pleaded this case after Friday's loss, noting that "injuries are also part of it".
Added before Luke Maye"We had a tough defeat, but we're still a big team, we still have six games, hopefully."
And after Friday's game, it may be that the final decision as to which team will be the best 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. "