CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For the primary time since his left sneaker break up open 30 seconds after tipoff of a recreation final month, the Duke celebrity Zion Williamson took the courtroom on Thursday evening, serving to his staff to an 84-72 victory over Syracuse within the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Convention match.
Appearing no indicators of the knee harm sustained when his shoe exploded, Williamson ruled the sport, scoring 29 issues as he made all 13 of his pictures from the sector. He additionally had 14 rebounds, 5 steals and a block.
“I come able to kill each and every recreation,” Williamson informed ESPN after the sport.
He persevered with this theme later in a information convention and brushed aside ideas, which arose after the harm, that he may no longer go back to the Duke lineup and would as an alternative rehabilitate his knee and simply get ready for the N.B.A. draft in June.
“Everyone has their proper to their very own opinion,” he mentioned, “however I knew I used to be coming again the entire time.”
Duke (27-Five), which struggled in Williamson’s absence, will meet its archrivals, the North Carolina Tar Heels (27-Five), in a Friday semifinal. The third-ranked Tar Heels have gained this season’s two earlier matchups in opposition to the No. Five Blue Devils, despite the fact that Williamson neglected many of the first showdown — when his Nike sneaker got here aside — and all the 2nd.
Williamson gained the outlet tip-off and scored the Blue Devils’ first issues on an within layup. Slightly two mins had long gone through when he introduced Duke fanatics in attendance to their toes, intercepting a Syracuse cross and taking it the entire solution to the opposite finish for a thunderous dunk.
Later there was once any other steal-and-dunk. And 9 rebounds. And 5 steals. And that was once simply within the first part, when Williamson led all avid gamers with 21 issues on Nine-for-Nine taking pictures.
As Syracuse stored the sport shut in the second one part, Williamson stored refusing to pass over, whilst appearing very important power on protection.
And should you have been questioning: Williamson wore Nikes on Thursday, a fashion named for the Boston Celtics big name Kyrie Irving, who performed one season at Duke. The sneaker that break up was once a Paul George signature Nike.
“The footwear have been unbelievable this recreation,” Williamson mentioned later on.
Williamson’s dresser malfunction — and the comparable knee sprain — had kicked off a spherical of soul-searching concerning the affect of shoe companies in college sports and the N.C.A.A.’s amateurism rules.
It also presented a more immediate problem for Duke: A national title contender, the Blue Devils were suddenly without their best player, the freshman who is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the N.B.A. draft.
Before Williamson’s injury, the Blue Devils were 23-2 and ranked No. 1 in the country. In the three weeks between then and tipoff against Syracuse, they dropped to No. 5 while going 3-3, including the loss to the Tar Heels on the night of the sneaker disaster.
Duke announced hours before Thursday’s game that Williamson would return in opposition to Syracuse (now 20-13), which had crushed Duke in Durham, N.C., at a time when the Blue Devils’ big name was once wholesome.
With Williamson at complete power and even as regards to it, Duke must be a favourite to win the nationwide championship, which might be its first since 2015 and the 6th of Trainer Mike Krzyzewski’s occupation.
Duke may be just about a lock to be no less than a No. 2 seed within the nationwide match bracket, despite the fact that by the point the sector is introduced on Sunday, the choice committee may have extrapolated Duke’s energy with a wholesome Williamson ahead and slotted it as a most sensible seed.