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Friday, Mar 15, 2019 at 1:19 am

Syracuse Dropped by Duke 84-72 in Williamson’s Return

By Adam Unger

CitrusTV Men’s Basketball Reporter

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Duke freshman Zion Williamson was back out on the court for first time since February 20th, playing in the ACC Tournament Quarterfinals against Syracuse Thursday night. It was something Head Coach Jim Boeheim and his team knew they had to prepare for, yet he still got the best of the Orange in the first half.

Two minutes into the game, Williamson stole a pass from Buddy Boeheim and went coast-to-coast for a one-handed jam. A few minutes later, he played tic-tac-toe with fellow freshman R.J. Barrett in transition for a two-handed dunk.

“I’ve been in this game for over 50 years, and I’ve seen a lot of great players,” Jim Boeheim said. “He’s a different player. He can do things that nobody has done in this game.”

Syracuse (20-13, 10-8 Atlantic Coast) saw plenty of the future lottery pick as Duke (27-5, 14-4) toppled the Orange 84-72 in the Spectrum Center down in Charlotte.

Syracuse had taken an early 9-6 lead on the back of senior guard Frank Howard in the first few minutes of the game, thanks to an early hot hand for the second night in a row.

“With Tyus being out, I know I had to be a little bit more aggressive,” Howard said. “Around this time of year, I finally got my body right to feel comfortable to attack.”

But before you knew it, Duke was up 32-15 as Williamson was outscoring the entire Syracuse team. A few fans were headed for the exits already, but the Orange didn’t quit.

“It shows a lot about what you can do,” Buddy Boeheim said. “We proved tonight that we’re going to give a lot of teams a problem.”

Howard brought the Orange back into the game, sparking the 13-2 run to end the first half as Duke took a 34-28 lead into the locker room.

Syracuse was a thorn in the Blue Devils’ side in the second half. The Orange matched Duke shot for shot and slowed down Williamson’s production in the paint, holding him to only eight points.

“I think we really handled that well and played better on him in the second half,” Buddy Boeheim said. “We made the adjustments we needed and there’s a lot to take away from this.”

A Boeheim three-pointer tied the game up at 46 with 13 minutes to go. The Orange faithful in the Spectrum Center jumped right back into the game, but Syracuse could never take a lead down the stretch.

Howard had a career night on Thursday, scoring 28 points and adding three assists in 39 minutes of play.

“I think he’s more of a scorer now than he has been in a long time,” Jim Boeheim said. “This is what I thought he would do early in the year until he got hurt. This is the way he was shooting the ball.”

Boeheim and Oshae Brissett added 15 and 14 points, respectively, but Duke managed to prevail behind 29 points from Williamson, 23 from Barrett, and 15 from Tre Jones.

Duke will move on to face North Carolina in the semifinals while Syracuse will wait to find out its fate on Selection Sunday. As the Orange prepares for whatever and whoever is next, they hope to get their star back.

“We think Tyus will be back at practice probably Saturday,” Jim Boeheim said. “He’s close, but he just couldn’t go today. It’s swelling in his back and it’s just not something he could go with.”

arunger@syr.edu | @AdamUnger28