The first day of the Men’s NCAA Tournament featured the rise of Ja Morant to the national spotlight. Morant’s Murray State pulled off a comfortable upset over Marquette and pumped up Morant’s stature among college hoops fans and NBA teams looking for their next superstar.
Some even wondered if Morant could play his way into the top pick of the NBA Draft later this spring. But Friday’s slate of games also featured the person who will almost certainly be taken No. 1 in June — Duke’s Zion Williamson. The standout freshman has dominated college basketball this season, and his NCAA Tournament debut gave fans more of what they’ve come to expect from the 6-foot-7, 285-pound forward.
Duke took on North Dakota State in Columbia on Friday night, and he powered the Blue Devils to a 85-62 win over the Bison with 25 points on 12-of-16 from the field. RJ Barrett also had 26 points on the night, and the Duke starters were sent to the bench well before the final buzzer, but Zion’s game is built to dominate smaller teams, and he showed off on Friday.
And the Zion highlights started early on with a strong finish through a double team in the lane.
He then skied out of nowhere for a massive first-half block.
The Bison actually got out to an early lead in this one, but it was the classic case of tournament adrenaline for an underdog and maybe some nerves from a heavy favorite before they reached their equilibrium. And as the Duke lead grew, Williamson put on a show with a slew of dunks an finishes inside.
This play, which started on the defensive end and finished with a remarkable amount of control on the other end, is probably his best of the day.
It’s worth getting another look just to see how much faster and stronger he was on the play.
Even when Zion missed, he hustled to make up for it.
This is what a 16 vs. 1 matchup looks like when the No. 1 seed also happens to have the best player in college basketball on the floor. And those who expect Duke to play in the title game in a few weeks certainly have to be feeling good about their brackets after Friday night.