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Duke thrives in Zion Williamson's return, Blue Devils advance past Syracuse

Steve Wiseman, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) on

Published in Basketball

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Zion Williamson returned with perfection, giving No. 5 Duke another shot at beating rival North Carolina.

The 6-foot-7 freshman, playing his first game since suffering a sprained knee on Feb. 20, hit all 13 of his shots from the field to score 29 points in third-seeded Duke's 84-72 win over sixth-seed Syracuse in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.

Duke (27-5) advances to play second-seeded UNC (27-5) in the ACC semifinals Friday night. The Tar Heels won both regular season meetings between the rivals as Williamson, the ACC player of the year, was limited to 36 seconds of play due to his injury.

Syracuse (20-13) played its second tournament game in as many nights without leading scorer Tyus Battle, who missed his second game in a row with a lower back bruise. That didn't stop the Orange from rallying from a 17-point first half deficit to tie the score at 46 in the second half.

But Duke rode solid night's from three of its four freshmen starters to pull way for the win. Williamson had 14 rebounds and five steals to go with his scoring output. Classmate RJ Barrett added 23 points for the Blue Devils while freshman point guard Tre Jones added 13 points and eight assists.

Duke shot 53.8 percent to overcome its 18 turnovers.

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Duke led by as many as 17 points in the first half and appeared on the verge of a blowout. But Duke's sloppiness on offense, combined with Syracuse's improved shooting allowed the Orange to trail 34-28 at halftime.

Duke pushed the lead back to seven points at 40-33 with 16:40 to play. But a 5-0 Syracuse run, capped by Oshae Brissett's spin move to score over Jones in the lane left Duke up 40-38.

Buddy Boeheim hit back-to-back 3-pointers for the Orange, including a jumper with 13:00 to play that tied the score at 46.

The Blue Devils led 52-49 when reserve Jordan Goldwire gave them a boost. The sophomore guard picked up a loose ball in the backcourt for a steal before driving into the crowded lane to hit a layup while drawing a foul. His free throw put Duke up 55-49 with 10:08 to play.

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