Zion Williamson returned in fine form, scoring 29 points as fifth-ranked Duke defeated Syracuse 84-72 in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament Thursday night at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.
Williamson, the ACC Player of the Year, was in action for the first time since suffering a sprained knee in the opening minute of a Feb. 20 loss to North Carolina. The freshman forward shot 13-for-13 from the field, but 2-for-9 on foul shots, and finished with 14 rebounds and five steals.
Duke (27-5), the third seed for the tournament, will meet third-ranked and second-seeded North Carolina in Friday night’s late quarterfinal. North Carolina won the two regular-season meetings, with Williamson playing only 30 seconds total in those contests.
Syracuse wiped out a 17-point hole, pulling even at 46-46 with 13 minutes to play when Buddy Boeheim drained the second of consecutive 3-point shots.
Duke recovered, with RJ Barrett’s 3 building the edge to 60-51. Syracuse scored the next four points before fading.
Barrett finished with 23 points, and Tre Jones had 15 points — all in the second half — for Duke, which will be in a conference semifinal against North Carolina for the third year in a row.
Frank Howard scored 28 points, Boeheim had 15 and Oshae Brissett added 14 for sixth-seeded Syracuse (20-13).
The Orange played for the second night in a row without scoring leader Tyus Battle, who was injured in Saturday’s regular-season finale at Clemson. The Orange had enough to get past Pittsburgh on Wednesday, but the offense went through a few dry spells against Duke.
Just two minutes in, Williamson swiped a pass and delivered a thunderous dunk on a breakaway. He had 11 quick points, including a 3-pointer, as Duke took a 17-11 lead.
As part of a 17-2 run, Duke stretched the gap to 23-11.
Shortly after, Syracuse had already racked up nine turnovers.
Yet the Orange responded from a 32-15 deficit, closing the first half on a 13-2 run.
Williamson had 21 first-half points on 9-for-9 shooting from the field, hindered only by going 2-for-7 on free throws. Barrett had nine points at halftime.
The teams split two games in the regular season, with Syracuse winning in overtime on the road in January and Duke prevailing without Williamson at Syracuse last month.
–Field Level Media