By: Associated Press
March 16, 2019
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Zion Williamson proved he’s back and healthy with a dominating three-game show at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. And that has fifth-ranked Duke celebrating yet another championship in its already-record haul.
Williamson had 21 points to help the Blue Devils beat No. 12 Florida State 73-63 on Saturday night in the championship game, giving Duke its 21st tournament title while sending the Blue Devils charging into the NCAA Tournament.
Williamson was named the tournament’s most valuable player, becoming only the sixth freshman to win the award and the first in a dozen years.
RJ Barrett added 17 points and nine rebounds and the Blue Devils (29-5) took control after halftime, earning Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski his record 15th ACC Tournament championship.
And point guard Tre Jones had his own strong outing with 18 points and six assists, all part of Duke’s closing act that showed the Blue Devils — with Williamson healthy after missing nearly six full games with a knee sprain — are ready for what’s ahead.
It started with a quarterfinal win against Syracuse, with Williamson going for 29 points on 13-for-13 shooting in his first game back. Then came an even bigger performance in the semifinals: 31 points, 11 rebounds and the final-minute tip-in that ultimately helped Duke hold off third-ranked North Carolina in a rivalry classic.
He didn’t need to do as much this time, with Duke putting four players in double figures and shooting 58 percent after the break to a 36-all score into a 14-point lead by midway through the half.
Mfiondu Kabengele scored 14 points for the Seminoles (27-7). They upset No. 2 Virginia in Friday’s semifinals but couldn’t recover after falling behind big, getting no closer than five again.
The Seminoles had been rolling since a 1-4 ACC start in January, winning 14 of 15 games with the only loss coming at third-ranked North Carolina. And they controlled most of the game against the Cavaliers, shooting nearly 57 percent to tear through Virginia’s stout defense. But by Saturday, they managed to stay right with Duke for a half before fading as the Blue Devils made their title-clinching move. FSU made just 8 of 32 shots (25 percent) after halftime as Duke’s defensive pressure caused problems, while the Seminoles’ defense had trouble getting its own stops as Duke got out in transition more.
This tournament was all about the 6-foot-7, 285-pound Williamson, whose Feb. 20 knee sprain — that included the image of his left foot tearing through the side of his shoe as he fell to the court — had threatened to derail the title potential of a team that has spent a national-best seven weeks at No. 1 in the AP Top 25. But Williamson’s return restored that confident edge that reaches throughout Duke’s lineup at both ends of the court, from his high-flying dunks to his rim-protecting leaps to swat away shots.
The Seminoles are headed to the NCAA Tournament, where they hope for another deep run like last year’s push to within a game of the Final Four.
You can watch the tournament selection show on WCTV at 6 p.m. on Sunday.