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Beyond the arc: Zion Williamson carries Duke to win over Pittsburgh

<p>Zion Williamson scored 25 points and had seven assists in Duke's big win against the Panthers.</p>

Zion Williamson scored 25 points and had seven assists in Duke's big win against the Panthers.

The Blue Devils used the momentum from their huge home win over Virginia to blow past the Panthers 79-64. The Blue Zone breaks down three key takeaways, three key stats and looks forward for the Duke squad: 

Three key takeaways: 

1. Zion dominates 

Zion Williamson has been on a tear ever since ACC play began, and his streak of dominance didn’t end Tuesday. The Spartanburg, S.C. native made his first 10 field goals and finished the night with 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting while adding seven boards and a career-high seven assists. Williamson is now averaging 25.5 points per game in conference play, his only performance under the 25 point-threshold being the contest against Florida State in which the star freshman sat out the entire second-half with an eye injury. His case for National Player of the Year just keeps getting stronger. 

2. Marques Bolden shows glimpses of stardom 

After coming to Durham as the top ranked center in the class of 2016, Bolden has had a disappointing career at Duke thus far, both due to injury and simply underperformance. But it’s nights like Tuesday that remind Blue Devil fans of the potential the DeSoto, Texas native once had. While Bolden only posted seven points, the 6-foot-11 junior added nine rebounds and four blocks in 30 minutes of work. If he can produce at that kind of level on a consistent basis, Duke will be a very scary team going forward.

3. White, O’Connell held without a three 

In the Blue Devils’ dominant win over Kentucky to begin the season, it wasn’t just the team’s star freshmen that came ready to play. Junior Jack White and sophomore Alex O’Connell were instrumental pieces off the bench, combining for 18 points including four makes from downtown. But against the Panthers, their presence was pretty much nonexistent offensively. White only attempted one 3-pointer in 35 minutes and totaled a mere four points, while O’Connell went scoreless in only three minutes of play. As some of Duke’s two most important bench assets—where White will return once point guard Tre Jones returns—and floor spacers, their production will be key if the team hopes to make a deep tournament run.

Three key stats: 

1. 19 

Junior center Javin DeLaurier came into the contest having made 19 consecutive field goals, just one short of the ACC record set by the Blue Devils’ own Alaa Abdelnaby in 1988-89. But after a 0-of-2 showing in Pittsburgh, including a missed layup on his first attempt, the Shipman Va. native’s streak came to an end. 

2. 11 

In addition to Williamson’s 25 points, classmate R.J. Barrett added 26 points of his own in the win. This is the 11th time the two rookies have combined for above 50 points this season. Prior to this year, Duke has had a total of only three occurrences in which two freshmen combined for 50 or more points.

3. 3 

With the victory, the Blue Devils have now won their third consecutive ACC road game to start the season, the team’s first time accomplishing that feat since the 2011-12 campaign. Duke went undefeated in conference road games that season en route to a second-place finish in the ACC. The team was eventually knocked out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Lehigh.

Looking forward 

The Blue Devils have now survived two games without their starting point guard. And with four more unranked matchups looming before that trip to Charlottesville Feb. 9, there is no reason to rush him back. As long as Duke takes care of business and avoids a dreadful performance like it had against Syracuse, its rematch with Virginia should be another top-five battle.