When the Duke Blue Devils needed a crucial late-game bucket against the UCF Knights, there was little doubt the ball would go to Zion Williamson. But they trailed by three with roughly 20 seconds remaining and the freshman phenom held the ball just beyond the arc. It would have made some sense for Zion to pull up for three and try to tie the game, but he chose to go a different route.
As seen below, Williamson drove into the paint, attacked UCF’s 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall, and drew an impressive and-one with 14.4 seconds remaining, courtesy of the NCAA March Madness Twitter.
While Williamson missed the free throw for a chance to tie it, RJ Barrett was able to grab the rebound and make an open layup to give Duke a one-point lead. After two potential game-winning chances rimmed out for UCF, it meant the top-seeded Blue Devils had survived a major scare.
But on Zion’s final bucket, it seems he nearly did pull up for three, choosing not thanks to one of his teammates.
Zion Williamson Addresses Decision to Drive on Tacko Fall Late
During a postgame interview between Williamson and Barrett which was revealed by the team’s official Twitter account, the two asked each other a few questions. But one that stood out came from Barrett and to Zion about the decision to drive late.
RJ Barrett: “Down by three, you get the ball somehow and you just go right at Tacko [Fall]. You were able to get that and-one at the end, man, what was going through your mind?”
Zion Williamson: “At the 2:09 mark coach looked at us, the whole group and he said ‘you guys live for this moment.’ So when I got the ball, I was going to shoot a three at first, but then Tre [Jones] was yelling ‘go, take it to the basket!’ So I got the ball to the basket.”
The decision proved to be pivotal for a number of reasons. Obviously, the outcome was fortunate that Barrett pulled down Williamson’s missed free throw and made the putback layup to take the lead. But beyond that, the basket by Zion led to Fall fouling out of the game and having to watch the final possession from the sidelines.
There’s a fair reason to believe that if Fall were in the game that Barrett may not have gotten that rebound and even had a chance for a putback (had the UCF center not fouled out). In turn, the decision to drive by Williamson and his teammate in Tre Jones urging him to do so drastically helped Duke’s chances of winning in the end.
Zion Williamson’s Stellar Performance in Win
Duke’s freshman star, along with Barrett and Jones each played all 40 minutes in this game. Williamson wrapped up the win with 32 points on 12-of-24 shooting (3-of-7 from deep), 11 rebounds and four assists. He came up big down the stretch and has now scored 57 points through the first two games.
As ESPN Stats & Info details, Zion’s point total ties Kevin Durant for the most points scored by a freshman in their first two tournament games ever.
While Williamson’s play was a big reason for the victory, a tip of the cap deserves to go to UCF guard Aubrey Dawkins, who was exceptional as well. Dawkins scored 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting and knocked down 5-of-7 shots from beyond the arc. For good measure, he also tacked on four assists, three rebounds and three steals in 40 minutes.