Zion weaves his legacy into Duke-UNC rivalry, advances to ACC Finals
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Zion Williamson had the go-ahead tip-in on his own miss with 30.3 seconds left and fifth-ranked Duke held off third-ranked North Carolina 74-73 on Friday night in the Atlantic Coast Conference semifinals.
Williamson had 31 points and 11 rebounds and the Blue Devils (28-5) survived a fight with their fierce rival in a classic that went down to the final play. Ultimately Duke hung on, but needed a final stop. After RJ Barrett missed two free throws with 12.4 seconds left, UNC pushed downcourt for Coby White to get a contested long jumper.
The shot rattled around the rim and out as Nassir Little crashed the glass for a desperate tip attempt, sending Duke’s bench into celebration and leaving a disappointed White crouching at midcourt.
Cameron Johnson had 23 points for the Tar Heels (27-6). They shot 40 percent and led by four in the final three minutes but couldn’t hold on.
Duke: This tournament has largely been about Williamson’s return from the injury that had sidelined him for nearly six full games, and what it means for the Blue Devils going forward. He had 29 points on 13-for-13 shooting – the best performance without a miss in the event’s 66-year history – in the quarterfinal win against Syracuse. Williamson had another big game, but the Blue Devils also got sparks from spot-duty reserves like Jordan Goldwire and Antonio Vrankovic while Javin DeLaurier’s work on the boards kept Duke in it early as UNC was in full sprint by the opening tip. It was another sign that Duke, with Williamson back, is closer to being the version that spent a national-best seven weeks at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 this season.
UNC: The Tar Heels had claimed their first regular-season sweep of the Blue Devils since 2009, a year that ended with Roy Williams claiming his second NCAA championship. They were trying to beat Duke three times in a season for the first time since 1976, though Williamson barely played in the first game and not at all in the second due to a knee sprain. The Tar Heels proved they’re on level footing with the Blue Devils with Williamson back, but couldn’t figure out a way to close it out.
Duke: The Blue Devils advanced to the championship game against 12th-ranked Florida State. The Seminoles upset No. 2 Virginia in the s first semifinal.
UNC: The Tar Heels are headed to the NCAA Tournament, though it’s unclear whether they’ve done enough to secure a No. 1 seed.
Duke (28-5) advanced to Saturday’s 8:30 championship game against No. 4 seed Florida State (27-6) … The Blue Devils edged the Seminoles 80-78 at Tallahassee on Jan. 12 on a 3-pointer in the fading seconds.
Duke improved to 102-45 all-time the ACC Tournament and to 33-14 in the semifinals.
North Carolina (27-6) slipped to 101-47 in tournament play and 35-16 in semifinal games.
The No. 3 seed is now 16-18 all-time versus the No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament.
For the second consecutive night, Duke freshman Zion Williamson led all scorers with 29 points on 13-of-19 shooting from the floor, including a follow shot of his own missed shot with 31 seconds remaining for what proved to be the Blue Devils’ winning points.
Williamson also pulled down 11 rebounds for his 12th double-double of the season and his second of the tournament … Williamson is shooting a combined 26-for-32 from the floor in two ACC Tournament games.
RJ Barrett added 15 points for the Blue Devils and remains the only ACC player to score in double-figures in each of his team’s games this season … The freshman also led all players with seven assists.
Cameron Johnson led the Tar Heels with 23 points … It marked his 10th game this season with 20 or more points.
UNC’s Luke Maye added 14 points and led all rebounders with 13 … The double-double was Maye’s 14th of the season and the 32nd of his collegiate career.
The first half ended deadlocked at 44-44 … UNC’s Johnson and Duke’s Williamson paced their respective teams with 16 points each in the first 20 minutes … Johnson scored 14 of UNC’s first 22 points in the first 8:09 of the game … Williamson tallied 12 points in the final six minutes of the half, leading Duke back from a double-digit deficit.
The attendance of 20,116 for Friday night’s semifinal session set an attendance record for a college basketball event at Spectrum Center … It marks the third consecutive year the New York Life ACC Tournament has set such an attendance mark, having done so at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in both 2017 and 2018.
This marks the 23rd consecutive year in which the ACC Tournament championship game will feature either Duke or North Carolina, dating back to Wake Forest’s win over Georgia Tech in 1996 finals in Greensboro.
Friday marked only the second time that all ACC Tournament semifinal participants were ranked among the AP poll’s top 12. The first was March 12, 1995: No. 4 UNC def. No. 10 Maryland 97-92 in OT; No. 7 Wake Forest defeated No. 11 Virginia 77-68.
The meeting of No. 3 UNC and No. 5 Duke was only the fourth ACC Tournament game and the first semifinal in which both teams ranked nationally among the top 5. The other three:
1998 final – No. 4 UNC defeated No. 1 Duke
1982 final – No. 1 UNC defeated No. 3 Virginia
1974 final – No. 1 NC State defeated No. 5 Maryland