In the Blue Devils’ third 2019 meeting with the Tar Heels, a dominant effort from forward Zion Williamson powered the team to an 74-73 victory and a berth to the finals of the ACC Tournament. The Blue Zone breaks down three key takeaways, three key stats and looks forward for the Duke squad:
Three key takeaways:
1. The Zion effect
There is absolutely no denying it. Zion Williamson, the best college basketball player in the country and quite possibly best of the decade, is everything for this Duke team. The Tar Heels, not unlike the rest of the ACC, had no way of containing the freshman who posted 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting and added 11 rebounds in a thrilling one-point victory, but with Zion, you have to look past the box score. The numbers, as incredible as they are, sell his impact short. Williamson alters countless shots at the rim, breaks up passing lanes, draws triple teams and passes the ball tremendously. There is quite literally not one aspect of the game that he does not affect. As evident Friday night, a healthy Zion elevates this team to a championship-contending level.
2. Jordan Goldwire, welcome to the show
The last two games have been Jordan Goldwire’s best of his young career, and he has officially earned himself a spot in the March rotation. The sophomore guard has absolutely pestered opponents on defense and even added a few clutch buckets on the other end. After Cameron Johnson began the game scorching hot, pouring in the first eight Tar Heel points, Goldwire was assigned the daunting task of slowing the sharpshooter and he did just that. Goldwire, seven inches shorter than the ACC’s second ranked 3-point shooter, stayed glued to Johnson the rest of the night and did not allow a single 3-point basket. The energy and intensity that Goldwire brings to this team is invaluable.
3. Free throws remain a concern
As absurdly talented as this team is, which includes three probable future first round picks, free throws continue to be a problem. Duke shot just 7-of-13 from the line, with the last two attempts being particularly agonizing. The Blue Devils got the stop they needed on the defensive end as the Tar Heels fouled Barrett who corralled a crucial rebound with just 13 seconds of regulation remaining and a one-point lead. The freshman missed both shots, putting the fate of the game in the hands of the Tar Heel offense. Fortunately for Duke, the result was a missed three by Coby White in the ACC semifinals, but in just a matter of days the stakes will be much higher.
Three Key Stats:
Tre Jones, after shooting 1-of-7 from three against Syracuse Thursday night, accounted for five of Duke’s 20 three-point attempts, hitting just one. There’s no reason a team with the most unstoppable player in the country should be asking for this type of three-point shooting volume from a 25-percent shooter. Jones is a fantastic point guard and a critical piece of this team, but 3-point shooting is not his strong-suit. For this team to reach its incredible potential, shot selection has to improve.
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Duke began the season with a premier 3-point shooter and role player by the name of Jack White. After White lost his groove, it appeared as though Alex O’Connell was ready to fill the void. The sophomore worked his way into the starting lineup after scoring 46 points in a four-game stretch that began with a 20-point performance against Syracuse. Friday night, the two shooters combined for zero points in nine combined eerily quiet minutes. The Blue Devils, who continue to struggle from deep, are in desperate need of one of these two players to find his stroke from deep.
With Marques Bolden injured and Javin DeLaurier in foul trouble, Coach K went to senior center Antonio Vrankovic to step in and man the paint. The seven-footer, who had played a mere 28 minutes of action in regular season ACC play, gave the Blue Devils ten crucial minutes, most of which were during a pivotal Duke run to close the first half. While he has played a marginal role throughout the season, the senior stepped up when it mattered most and finished with two assists, a block and a basket in an impressive showing.
After an emotional win over its rivals, Duke now has a date with Florida State in the ACC Championship Game tipping off Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. with a chance to bring some hardware back to the Bull City. The Seminoles, coming off an impressive win over the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers, will be no easy task for the Blue Devils in their final tune-up before the NCAA Tournament.