Published: Sun, March 17, 2019
Sport | By Wendy Sparks

Five observations from Duke men's basketball's first half against North Carolina

Five observations from Duke men's basketball's first half against North Carolina

Williamson appeared to tweak his back in the final minutes, which Jay Bilas joked came from carrying the team himself.

Buoyed by the return of Zion Williamson, the Blue Devils earned a hard-fought 74-73 win over North Carolina in the ACC semifinals.

And when UNC failed to score for 4:35 of game time in the second half - a crucial stretch where the Blue Devils tallied four points to take the lead - it was Johnson and Maye who finished and-one layups to snatch the momentum back. He came through in a huge moment Friday, prompting UNC coach Roy Williams to say Williamson "put on his Superman jersey again and was incredible".

All of that was never more evident than during Florida State's second-half run when it left the Cavaliers in the rear view. It could've been Barrett's two misses at the free throw line with 12 seconds to play that defined the game.

That sent Duke's bench into celebration and leaving a disappointed White crouching at midcourt in an arena filled with a buzzing instate crowd.

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One of those plays was a missed go-ahead attempt by Johnson with 18 seconds left, a step-back three that Tar Heel fans - and Johnson himself - have grown accustomed to seeing him make.

In the quietest corner of an otherwise overwhelmingly loud North Carolina locker room, junior guard Brandon Robinson echoed the opinion of his teammates. They both looked the part, too - down to Duke's final punch that finally secured a ticket to the tournament final.

Then, after Duke missed a pair of free throws, first-year guard Coby White's long jumper to win the game rimmed out, sealing the game.

In fact, I wrote about that Friday prior to the game and that's nearly exactly how the game played out. Williamson returned from a six-game absence during Duke's 84-72 ACC tournament quarterfinal win over Syracuse on Thursday night.

Yes, the Blue Devils' freshman star now has his delayed big moment against North Carolina.

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Williamson helped cover for Cam Reddish, who was minus-11 for the game with five turnovers.

This is a great matchup between the best 2P offense and defense in the ACC. Duke has the fourth-best efficiency in the country from inside the arc, and they rank a distant first in conference play. The Tar Heels proved they're on level footing with the Blue Devils with Williamson back, but couldn't figure out a way to close it out.

Before locking in any Duke vs. Florida State picks of your own, you'll want to check out the 2019 ACC Tournament Championship predictions from the SportsLine Projection Model.

Meanwhile, Virginia will be back in Charlottesville, preparing for Sunday's NCAA bracket reveal and a return to the event that broke the program's heart past year with a first-round loss to UMBC.

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