CHARLOTTE — After missing all but 34 seconds of the two regular-season games against UNC, Duke’s Zion Williamson made up for lost time. The freshman forward scored 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Duke’s 74-73 win over the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament semifinals.
“It was tough watching the first two games,” said Williamson. “I watched my brothers out there battling and wished I could go to war with them.”
Williamson’s layup with 31 seconds remaining provided the eighth and final lead change and the game’s final points. “To make the game-winning shot,” he said, “honestly, I’ve got to give credit to RJ (Barrett), because the read was for him to fake the ball and take it to the basket.”
UNC defended that, however, so Barrett, who finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, found an impressive backup plan.
“He read the defense and gave me the ball,” Williamson said, “and my teammates trust me to make the shot.”
While Williamson and Barrett will get the headlines, deservedly so, it was a pair of Duke reserves that kept the Blue Devils in the contest.
UNC built a 13-point lead midway through the first half, and Duke starting forward Javin DeLaurier picked up his third foul. The Blue Devils were already down a big man, with injured center Marques Bolden in street clothes with a knee injury suffered in last weekend’s regular season finale against the Tar Heels.
So coach Mike Krzyzewski called on senior center Antonio Vrankovich, who had played 76 minutes all season. Backup point guard Jordan Goldwire, who had a total of 13 minutes and no points in the first two Carolina games, was already in the game, after Cam Reddish struggled to defend UNC’s Cam Johnson early.
The two little-used veterans helped spark a 24-11 run to tie the score at the half. Vrankovich and Goldwire started the second half and helped Duke put together a 32-13 run spanning the break.
Goldwire had two steals and four points — scoring one basket on a Vrankovich assist during the run, and scoring Duke’s second-to-last basket of the game, picking up a loose ball and laying it in with 1:46 remaining.
“Jordan Goldwire has just been sensational of defense,” Krzyzewski said. “Not just on Johnson but getting back. He was the first guy back all the time to help stop their break.”
Vrankovich had two points and two assists — it was just the second game of the year where both Goldwire and Vrankovich scored baskets — and a key blocked shot.
“The most exciting part was blocking Luke Maye’s shot,” he said afterward.
“He just gave us a physical presence inside there,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m proud of our guys, because we had a big meeting this morning about giving energy, and anyone who is in the game give the guys who have been in the game a long time energy. I thought our bench did that tonight.”
The win prevented UNC from winning three games against Duke this season, something the Tar Heels haven’t done since 1976 — a fact that each of the Duke players knew and mentioned after the game. It also moved Duke into the tournament final against Florida State, an upset winner over Virginia in the first semifinal.