CHARLOTTE, NC – It was not hard for Roy Williams to recount what happened between his team's first two encounters with Duke, which ended in the dominant victories of North Carolina and what happened on Friday night 73 victory, which could have shifted the ranking for a No. 1 grid position in the NCAA tournament.
"The guy who got hurt came back," said Williams, "put on his Superman jersey and was unbelievable."
"The guy" in this case would be Zion Williamson, and North Carolina heard his share before he entered the court. Williamson injured his knee on February 20 when his sneaker snatched Duke's opening possession of the first game against the Tar Heels, and the absence of the freshman overshadowed a signature win for UNC. Three weeks later, he resigned from the regular season finale at Chapel Hill, and again dominated the heels. So the question arose: Would UNC still be the better team with Duke in full strength?
The victory on Friday provided some sort of answer, but neither Williams nor the rest of the Tar Heels were ready to assert with certainty.
"He adds another dimension to their team," Cam Johnson told UNC about Williamson's return. "He does a lot of things that they do not have without him, so the way they play offensively changes, but they ran the same sets and we had the same settings as the first two games. He's a great player and he definitely adds something to his team, but he was not our focus. "
North Carolina (27-6) certainly had the chance to win even on the pitch with Williamson, an opportunity to become its hottest rival to third up in a single season and taking the opportunity to clear the cloud that was beyond the first two wins, Johnson scored a 3 with 1
"I would have put $ 1,000 right there to get the shot in," he said, but it did not. "
Coby White's last Springer and NassirLittle's setback attempt was not heard. And that was the snack for the heels. Without Williamson, there was no question which team was better. With him, the difference was just a shot – a shot that felt exactly as it left Johnson's hand but did not fall.
Yet, Williamson's influence was something that bordered on transcendents. In the first two games Duke (28-5) collected only 58 points in the color. After Williamson had occupied prime real estate on Friday, the Blue Devils 50 – according to ESPN Stats & Information Research – had the most UNC in a game in eight years.
Williamson finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds the first player to post since Tim Duncan, 22 years ago, a 25-10 series in consecutive ACC tournament games. His stealing, which led to a monster dunk, was a turning point in the game. His last bucket was the difference in the end result after he had hit his own failure. His work at both ends of the court made Duke a different team.
"He can open it a lot and also at the defensive end," said the Blue Devils, Tre Jones. "He can guard anyone when we change, and he's always on the boards, he just flies around."
Williamson helped Cam Reddish help with five turn-downs minus 11 for the game. And his success in color overshadowed RJ Barrett's 5 out of 15 shooting night. It could have been Barrett's two misses in the free throw line that defined the game as 12 seconds. Instead, he decided to hand over a game and court designed for him to Williamson to determine the endpoints of the game, which turned out to be crucial.
Duke will face Florida State on Saturday to have a chance at the ACC title. The Blue Devils have just one defeat with their five starts on the court, and that is a strong argument for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee to bring them into the front row and send them to nearby Columbia, South Carolina street of Williamsons Hometown Spartanburg.
Or maybe the first two games without Williamson still have weight in the committee. Williams filed this case after losing Friday, stating that "injuries are also part of it."
And after Friday's price war could It may be that the final decision as to which team is better will be taken after another rematch in the NCAA tournament.
"I would like to see it. Honestly, when we play against them, it will be a great game," said Williamson. "But I will not sit here and say," Oh my god, I hope we can play her again. "I do not start any additional drama."