Zion Williamson had a hell of a return Thursday night. In his first game back since injuring his knee against North Carolina on Feb. 20, Williamson became the first Duke player ever to go a perfect 13-for-13 from the field. He finished with a double-double of 29 points and 14 rebounds.
He led the Blue Devils to an 84-72 victory over Syracuse in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. The performance made Williamson the first player in the 66-year history of the ACC tournament to attempt more than 12 shots and not miss any of them.
In the postgame interview, he made his opinion known on people who doubted he would return this season.
“Some people thought I wouldn’t come back,” he said to ESPN’s Allison Williams. “They’re not smart.”
“It felt great,” he continued. “I love this game, I love my teammates…I love playing with Duke. I love my teammates and it was great to be back.”
This followed up on his assertive statements made in the prelude to tonight’s tilt with the Orange.
“For the people that think I should just stop playing in college: thanks, but no thanks,” Williamson said in an interview with NCAA that aired Thursday morning.
“When I’m out on that rectangle, nothing else matters. It’s just poetry in motion for me. It’s what I love to do.”
He added: “I come ready to kill every game, so it was just great to get back on the court.”
The game drew a lot of eyeballs nationally, as basketball nation wanted to see if the likely No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft would be 100 percent after spraining his knee three weeks ago.
His performance put those doubts to rest almost immediately.
“Incredible,” he said when asked about his health. “I could’ve came back a couple of games ago, but they wanted to get my conditioning right, make sure I was 110 percent. I thank the Duke training staff for that, they got me better.”
This attention crescendoed after Syracuse guard Frank Howard appeared to attempt to trip the Duke star forward. He stumbled, but didn’t go down to the ground.
Our own Jeff Smith covered the attempted incident.
The play grabbed the attention of the halftime analysts and Jay Williams stated that things like this have no place in the game of basketball. This incident came less than eight minutes into the game, and Duke proceeded to jump out to an even bigger lead at various points in the first half. They entered halftime with a 34-28 lead behind Williamson’s excellent half.
Next is bitter rival North Carolina in the conference semifinals. The Tar Heels took the first 2 matchups, including a rout in Durham the day Williamson suffered his injury.
Should Duke (27-5, 15-4 ACC) exact some revenge, the Blue Devils would have an inside track for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.