Syracuse basketball falls to Duke in Zion Williamson’s return
SU falls to Duke in Zion Williamson's return
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Zion Williamson couldn’t have asked for a more impressive return to basketball Thursday night.
The Duke freshman sensation finished with 29 points and five steals on 13-13 shooting in the Blue Devils’ 84-72 win over the Syracuse men’s basketball team. Williamson had not played since his Feb. 20 knee injury when his shoe tore apart while playing North Carolina.
Not only is that a simply absurd stat line, but it’s also the greatest shooting performance in the 66-year history of the ACC tournament.
Duke’s entire team came out with an incredible amount of energy. Fueled by the return of Williamson and this being the Blue Devils’ debut in the ACC tournament, Mike Krzyzewski’s club started on fire. The Orange simply weren’t ready for the onslaught that took place right after tip-off.
Paschal Chukwu got in foul trouble early for Syracuse, and the Blue Devils began to have a ton of success in the middle of the 2-3 zone, hence, Duke’s 53.7 percent shooting percentage from the field. However, don’t let Williamson fool you. It wasn’t just him doing work against the Orange.
Freshman RJ Barrett had 23 points on 50 percent shooting from the field. Barrett employed his usual crafty nature to find his spots in the 2-3 zone. He didn’t shoot the ball that well from three, but he still shot well from the field.
Despite the game looking like Duke stole the show, Syracuse showed real signs of high-level basketball. Just like their second-round tournament matchup against Pittsburgh, the Orange showed resilience without scoring leader Tyus Battle on the floor.
Frank Howard had a career-high 28 points, including four three-pointers. Not to downplay others’ performances, but the first 15 minutes were simply hard to watch as a Syracuse fan. For about the last four to five minutes of the first half, though, the Orange essentially put together a 21-2 run.
Heading into the half, it was 34-28 in favor of Duke. Considering how the first half went, Syracuse was fortunate to be down so little.
The second half saw Duke pour in 50 points on the Orange, many of which came through transition opportunities. However, Syracuse scored 44 of their own in the second period.
Buddy Boeheim proved crucial in Syracuse staying in the game down the stretch. The freshman scored 15 points on 5-9 shooting. In all honesty, Battle sitting out was huge for Boeheim’s confidence. Often times, Battle creates opportunities for the Syracuse offense with the shot clock winding down.
Without Battle in the lineup, Boeheim, Howard, Oshae Brissett and Elijah Hughes all carried some of the load. Syracuse finished with 48.1 percent in field goals, well above their season total of 42.2 percent. Additionally, the Syracuse defense forced 18 turnovers from Duke, compared to only committing 17.
Simply put, Zion is back to basketball.
But this Syracuse team has the ability to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think we’re certainly capable of being a very good tournament team,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “We’re better than we were last year.”