Zion Williamson Returns in Style, Leading Duke to Victory Over Syracuse


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For the first time since his left sneaker split open 30 seconds after tipoff of a game last month, the Duke superstar Zion Williamson took the court on Thursday night, helping his team to an 84-72 victory over Syracuse in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Showing no signs of the knee injury sustained when his shoe exploded, Williamson dominated the game, scoring 29 points as he made all 13 of his shots from the field. He also had 14 rebounds, five steals and a block.

“I come ready to kill every game,” Williamson told ESPN after the game.

He continued with this theme later in a news conference and dismissed suggestions, which arose after the injury, that he might not return to the Duke lineup and would instead rehabilitate his knee and just prepare for the N.B.A. draft in June.

“Everybody has their right to their own opinion,” he said, “but I knew I was coming back the whole time.”

Duke (27-5), which struggled in Williamson’s absence, will meet its archrivals, the North Carolina Tar Heels (27-5), in a Friday semifinal. The third-ranked Tar Heels have won this season’s two previous matchups against the No. 5 Blue Devils, though Williamson missed most of the first showdown — when his Nike sneaker came apart — and all of the second.

Williamson won the opening tip-off and scored the Blue Devils’ first points on an inside layup. Barely two minutes had gone by when he brought Duke fans in attendance to their feet, intercepting a Syracuse pass and taking it all the way to the other end for a thunderous dunk.

Later there was another steal-and-dunk. And nine rebounds. And five steals. And that was just in the first half, when Williamson led all players with 21 points on 9-for-9 shooting.

As Syracuse kept the game close in the second half, Williamson kept refusing to miss, while showing essential energy on defense.

And if you were wondering: Williamson wore Nikes on Thursday, a model named for the Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving, who played one season at Duke. The sneaker that split was a Paul George signature Nike.

“The shoes were incredible this game,” Williamson said afterward.



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