It was one of the most highly anticipated games this season: two of the most storied programs, two hall of fame coaches and two of the best teams in college basketball all wrapped up in one of the best rivalries and post season conference tournaments in the country. And Duke and North Carolina’s ACC Tournament semifinal matchup did not disappoint. Both teams had statements to make and both teams made them Friday night at the Spectrum Center.
The Tar Heels beat Duke twice in the regular season – which is no easy feat. Their wins were questioned (by everyone outside of Chapel Hill), because National Player of the Year candidate Zion Williamson did not play. But Saturday he was on the court, and there would be no way for the people to discredit a victory.
“He definitely adds a different dimension to their team,” Cam Johnson said after the game. “He’s a really good athlete and he does a lot of things that they don’t have without him, so it kind of changes the way they play offensively, definitely. And it changes the way they attack.”
Zion makes Duke a better team. There’s no one who can debate that. And the game-high 31 points he scored against the Tar Heels proves that earlier contests would’ve been much different with him on the court. But UNC played the Blue Devils just as hard as anyone this season – pushing them to the brink in a game that could’ve easily gone either way. That validates earlier victories. If Duke only beat UNC by 1 point with Zion, there’s no guarantee Blue Devils wouldn’t have lost the previous two games with him.
After dropping 2 of their last 5 games without Williamson, the Blue Devils had to prove that with him they’re a team worthy of a number 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a win against a top 5 UNC squad that had beaten them twice would go a long way in doing that.
“We knew that if we were able to win this game,” Tre Jones said, “and win the game tomorrow night, we would probably be able to get the number one seed. Which coming in we weren’t at.”
Duke is a good team without Zion Williamson, but with him they’re great. And you can look no further than the 30 points per game he’s averaged over the last two days to see that.
One statement was made by two teams last night. That each is worthy of a number one seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament.