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ChronSports' Top 10 of 2019—No. 3: Duke men's basketball wins 21st ACC tournament title

<p>Zion Williamson became the first freshman in conference history to win ACC Player of the Year and ACC tournament MVP.</p>

Zion Williamson became the first freshman in conference history to win ACC Player of the Year and ACC tournament MVP.

As 2019 comes to a close, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest stories of the year in Duke athletics. Each day, we will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year for the Blue Devils.

Coming in at No. 3: Duke men's basketball earns its 21st ACC championship, getting revenge against North Carolina in the process.

When Zion Williamson broke through his shoe 36 seconds into the Blue Devils' matchup against North Carolina Feb. 20, the college basketball world was left in shock. 

The ensuing blowout defeat was the last thing on the minds of the Duke faithful. Had Williamson had played his final contest as a Blue Devil? If so, could Duke possibly regain its dominant form without a generational talent leading the offense?

While Williamson would go on to miss the next five contests—with the Blue Devils losing two of them—the freshman phenom put to rest any mention of him sitting out the rest of the season to prepare for the NBA Draft.

The Spartanburg, S.C., native returned to the court March 14 for Duke's ACC tournament opener against Syracuse, announcing to the world that he was back in historic fashion. Williamson was a perfect 13-for-13 from the field, leading the Blue Devils past the Orange with 29 points and 14 rebounds. 

More importantly, Williamson's dominance set up a third matchup against a top-five North Carolina squad. And, finally a chance for Duke to attempt to take down its in-state rivals at full strength.

The third consecutive ACC tournament semifinal between the two blue bloods certainly did not disappoint. North Carolina jumped out to an early double-digit advantage, but strong defense off the bench from Jordan Goldwire and Antonio Vrankovic ignited the Blue Devil offense and the teams entered the locker room tied.

Out of the break, Williamson was the difference-maker, exploiting weak interior defense throughout the back-and-forth period. The standout forward compiled another 30-point double-double, including a second-effort go-ahead layup in the final minute. Coby White missed a 20-footer at the buzzer as Duke escaped with a 74-73 win.

The Blue Devils earned a spot in the championship game against Florida State, which had knocked off top-seeded Virginia earlier that evening.

In the title matchup, Duke used a 25-11 run in the opening minutes of the second half to break open the game, which was tied after 20 minutes. Williamson built on his MVP performance with 21 points and five rebounds, and Tre Jones totaled a then-career high 18 points and six assists in the victory. 

Cam Reddish continued to play the role of the Seminole's worst nightmare, draining the dagger triple with 1:20 remaining in the contest. 

Duke would go on to cut down the nets in Charlotte and the Blue Devils were vaulted into the NCAA tournament's top overall seed after proving they were back to full strength. 

READ MORE on the Blue Devils' 21st ACC championship run

KINGS OF QUEEN CITY: Duke men's basketball captures 21st ACC tournament title

THIRD TIME'S THE CHARM: Zion Williamson leads Duke men's basketball to win against North Carolina

ZI DAY: Duke men's basketball carried by Zion Williamson's 29 points in return from injury

STEPPING STONES: Tre Jones' clutch scoring seals Duke men's basketball's ACC championship

'Killers kill': How Zion Williamson sparked Duke men's basketball's ACC tournament title run

GOOD AS GOLD: Duke men's basketball gets defensive boost from Jordan Goldwire and Antonio Vrankovic

'A crazy different type of player': Zion Williamson makes it look easy with near-perfect performance in return

Thanks Nike: Zion Williamson, Coach K discuss the aftermath of the shoe-lemma

A look at the rest of our top 10 countdown:

No. 10: Duke wrestling's Mitch Finesilver places 4th in NCAA championships

No. 9: Duke football kicks off season against No. 2 Alabama

No. 8: Haley Gorecki secures place in Duke women's basketball lore

No. 7: Duke women’s tennis makes Final Four run

No. 6: Duke football product Daniel Jones goes No. 6 in NFL Draft

No. 5: A trio of Blue Devils selected in the top 10 of NBA Draft

No. 4: Duke baseball comes within one win of College World Series

Michael Model

Digital Strategy Director for Vol. 115, Michael was previously Sports Editor for Vol. 114 and Assistant Blue Zone Editor for Vol. 113.  Michael is a senior majoring in Statistical Science and is interested in data analytics and using data to make insights.


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