After a lengthy absence, Zion Williamson returned to action on Thursday evening, taking the floor for the Duke Blue Devils against the Syracuse Orange in the ACC Tournament. Given that Coach K’s bunch was a double-digit favorite in the contest, it comes as no surprise that Duke took care of business on the way to a 84-72 victory but, as usual, the headliner was Williamson, who made quite a statement in his first on-court appearance since exploding through his sneaker and suffering a knee injury against North Carolina.
Though there was no real discussion of Williamson shutting it down after hurting his knee, there was plenty of noise surrounding the subject and he put any doubt about his health to bed immediately with an athletic explosion.
Williamson wasn’t done there, thoroughly dominating the game on both ends in the opening minutes. While he isn’t exactly known for his long-range shooting, the uber-athletic forward connected on his first three-point attempt.
In a hurry, an alley-oop pass ended in Williamson’s hands and he did the rest.
Then, Williamson showed off his strength and power, snatching a big-time rebound and finishing through contact.
Finally, the presumptive No. 1 pick completed a two-hand dunk to end his flurry of first-half highlights.
Williamson opened the game with 15 points (including three dunks and a three-pointer), five rebounds and four steals in the first 10 minutes of action and, by halftime, his numbers would’ve been impressive in a full-game sense. When the break arrived, he had 21 points (on perfect 9-for-9 shooting), nine rebounds and five steals and, if there was a blemish of any kind, it came in the form of Williamson shooting just 2-for-7 from the free throw line.
Still, Syracuse didn’t quite fade away, using a 13-2 run to climb within a six-point margin at the halftime break. That did provide Duke with plenty of incentive to deploy Williamson for a full workload, and the hits kept coming.
After a slow start to the half (for both player and team), Williamson scored four straight points to re-establish order and finished another alley-oop.
The 18-year-old kept creating impossibly efficient offense and doing so in highlight-worthy fashion.
Oh, and Williamson even blocked a shot for good measure.
When the dust settled, he even managed to join Christian Laettner in the Duke record book, which is almost always a good thing.
Williamson finished the evening with 29 points (on 13-for-13 shooting, setting an ACC Tournament record for efficiency), 14 rebounds and five steals, stringing together one of his best nights of the season on a big stage. Along the way, he further cemented his already snug hold on the No. 1 overall pick in June and did so in style.
The lights will only get brighter as Duke progresses through the ACC and into the NCAA Tournament but, judging by the thorough supremacy displayed by Zion Williamson against Syracuse, the best player in the country still plays for the Blue Devils.