CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Zion Williamson made all 13 of his shots, five on high-flying dunks, and scored 29 points in his return to lead No. 5 Duke to an 84-72 victory over Syracuse on Thursday night in the Atlantic Coast Conference quarterfinals.
RJ Barrett added 23 points and six rebounds to help Duke (27-5) set up a semifinal showdown with No. 3 North Carolina. The Tar Heels swept both games from the Blue Devils in the regular season, with Williamson injured in the first minute of the first meeting.
Williamson got off to a rousing start two minutes into the game when he stole a pass and drove the length of the floor before cocking his right hand back and throwing down a highlight-reel dunk that brought the crowd to its feet. He added three more soaring dunks in the first half — including one off an alley-oop pass from Barrett — and finished the first half with 21 points on 9-of-9 shooting and nine rebounds as Duke built a 34-28 lead.
It was Williamson’s first game since his left Nike Paul George shoe broke during a Feb. 20 game against the Tar Heels, causing him to miss nearly six full games with a sprained right knee. Williamson wore modified Nike Kyrie 4’s this time specifically designed to lend extra support to his 6-foot-7, 285-pound frame.
He showed no signs of any lingering knee issue and cracked a smile several times throughout the game.
Frank Howard scored 28 points, and Buddy Boeheim had 15 for Syracuse (20-13).
Despite Williamson’s highlight-reel display, the Orange battled until the end without leading scorer Tyus Battle, who missed his second straight game with a back injury.
Syracuse tied it with 13 minutes remaining on back-to-back 3-pointers from Boeheim.
But Duke wore down Syracuse down the stretch between the inside game of Williamson and the shooting of Barrett, who punctuated the win with a windmill dunk with 1:14 remaining.
Tre Jones added 15 points and eight assists for Duke.
Syracuse: Despite the emotional return of Williamson, Syracuse stayed close with one of the nation’s best teams despite playing without their leading scorer which is good news for Jim Boeheim’s club heading into the NCAA Tournament.
Duke: The Blue Devils are in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Williamson’s return looks likely to help by making the Blue Devils look more like the team that spent a national-best seven weeks at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll.
Syracuse: Will await word on an NCAA Tournament berth.
Duke: Will face No. 3 North Carolina for a third time in the semifinals. The Tar Heels won the previous two games — 88-72 on the road and 79-70 at home.