Zion Williamson left his mark on the Duke-UNC rivalry

North Carolina vs Duke ACC Tournament

Before Barrett missed two free throws with 12 seconds left up by one, Williams called a timeout to assess UNC's options.

Duke: This tournament has largely been about Williamson's return from the injury that had sidelined him for almost six full games, and what it means for the Blue Devils going forward.

Williamson - who sprained his knee less than 40 seconds into the team's first matchup and missed the second with the injury - registered a game-high 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to inspire Duke.

"These two guys have an awesome will to win", Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Williamson and Barrett, "and it makes us coaches look a lot better".

We were robbed of what could have truly been a magical three-game series 30 seconds into the first contest, but we still got two solid home-and-home regular-season meetings to make up for it. "But I'm not going to sit here and say, 'Oh my God, I hope we can play them again.' I'm not starting any extra drama". "The rivalry lived up to what it was expected to be". "It's such a blend of strength and power and quickness that we couldn't stop him getting the basketball inside and going to the basket". "The crowd was into it, it was a back and forth game. And you give those guys credit, they were shot out of a cannon, that ball was up the floor and in such a hurry and got to the rim". Luke Maye scored 14 points and pulled down 13 rebounds, while freshman standout Coby White scored 11 points on a 4-for-14 shooting night.

With the loss, UNC failed to register its first three-win season against Duke since the 1975-76 season. The Blue Devils weren't much better from long-range, hitting just 25 percent of their attempts.

Or perhaps the first two games against UNC without Williamson still carry weight with the committee.

But Carolina has felt a measure of disrespect, something that was surely compounded in the immediate aftermath of the game that would have settled any debate. "There's no one really like him", Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said after the game. We have never won a tournament championship but one time.

Jerome's personal misfortunes continued in the same building, Spectrum Center, where Virginia last season became the first No. 1 seed in NCAA tournament history to lose to a No. 16 seed following a stunning upset by Maryland-Baltimore County, 74-54. It would seem Virginia and Duke have locked up half the top seeds, with UNC, Gonzaga, Kentucky and Michigan State all vying for the final two.

North Carolina then suffered a brutal cold stretch, making 2 of 10 shots and failing to score for a full 4:35 of game time starting at the 8:22 mark. In those six games without Zion, those numbers dropped to 101.1 and 98.6, respectively.

And after Friday's prizefight, it might be that the final decision on which team is better will be made after yet another rematch in the NCAA tournament. The risk of losing to the rival in the national championship and living under the eternal trump card outweighs the reward of winning it.

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