In his return from injury, Duke’s Zion Williamson looked like he was never gone. The Blue Devils’ superstar freshman lived up to the hype, hitting all 13 of his field goal attempts as he led Duke to an 84-72 victory over Syracuse in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
The Orange were game, but just did not have enough to keep pace in the game’s final dozen minutes. SU (20-12) rallied in the first half to get within six and knotted up the game with 13 minutes to play, but gave up 38 points the rest of the way to Duke (27-5).
The Blue Devils were successful against the 2-3 zone of Syracuse by pounding the ball inside and scoring almost at will. Duke ended up shooting just under 54 percent from the game, but made 22-of-31 (71 percent) of their attempts inside the three-point line. That shooting proficiency, as well as a 38-27 rebounding deficit, was too much for the Orange to handle.
SU strung together six straight points to jump in front in the game’s early minutes. Frank Howard tossed an alley-oop to Paschal Chukwu, then converted a steal into an off-balance lay-up for the lead. Oshae Brissett then drove in from the left wing to score for a 9-6 lead.
Duke immediately wrested control of the game, ripping off a 17-2 run for a 23-11 lead just before the midpoint of the opening half. Syracuse got back within ten, but the Blue Devils rattled off seven straight points for the night’s biggest margin at 32-15 with less than four minutes to go in the half.
The Orange took over the rest of the session, scoring 13 of 15 points, capping the streak with eight straight markers. Howard played a major role, draining a floater and dropping in a three to bring SU within ten.
Duke tacked on a basket, but Howard responded with a right elbow jumper and another triple, this time trailing in transition. Buddy Boeheim added another trey and Syracuse was within 34-28 at halftime.
The Orange crept closer after returning to the floor. A Brissett foul shot drew them within four and his spin in the post made it a two-point game at 40-38. Boeheim added a three from the right corner to get within one and he curled into a triple on the next possession to tie the game at 46 a side with just under seven minutes off the clock.
The Blue Devils edged in front, then posted a 12-4 run to regain control at 60-51. SU clipped the lead to five, but Duke ran off seven straight for a 67-55 lead with under six minutes to go.
Syracuse chipped away with five points, but the Devils retaliated in kind to go up by 12 once more. The Orange would only get within nine during the final four minutes and Duke would advance.
Frank Howard poured in a career-high 28 points on the night, hitting four threes along the way, but also had a half dozen turnovers. Starting for the second straight night, Buddy Boeheim had 15 points, including connecting on a trio of treys. Oshae Brissett added 14 points to the Syracuse cause.
Zion Williamson was a perfect 13-of-13 from the field as he rolled up 29 points to go with 14 rebounds and five steals. R.J. Barrett added 23 points while Tre Jones had 15 points and handed out eight assists.
The Orange will now wait until Sunday to find out their NCAA Tournament destiny.