On Thursday, March 14th, 2019 Zion Williamson made his much-anticipated return to the Duke Blue Devils. They faced the Syracuse Orange as the ACC conference tournament began in Charlotte, North Carolina. Everyone following college basketball was excited to see how Williamson would respond after being sidelined for approximately a month after suffering a knee injury in the first minute of a game against the University of North Carolina back in February of 2019. Well, man o man did he put on quite a performance
Statistical Gem of a Game
Zion Williamson was a perfect 13 for 13 in field goals in his first game back to action. He ended up scoring 29 points helping the Blue Devils beat Syracuse 84-72 after missing the last 6 games in which Duke lost 3 of those. Zion pulled down a hefty 14 rebounds by hitting the glass hard as he usually does.
He was outstanding defensively as well. Williamson came away with 5 steals and a monster block in which his head almost hit the rim. By the numbers he really couldn’t have had a better all-around game except he did end up going 2 for 9 from the free throw line.
Style of Play
Zion was definitely Zion in his first game back as he played with such dominance, authority, and raw power. It was apparent from the get-go that he was not holding anything back making his opponents look like children out on the floor. His high energy and crazy athletic ability for a big man was exhibited by how fluid he moved on the court as no one could stop him getting to the spots he desired. It was a great deal of fun to watch Williamson throw down his typical high flying bring the house down power dunks that he is so well known for.
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim praised the young star after the game. "I've been in this game over 50 years, and I've seen some great players," Boeheim said. "I'm not saying he's better than those guys, but he can do things nobody has done in this game. He's crazy. He's a different type of player. There's not guys like him."
“Gotta be the Shoes”
After one of his Nike shoes blew out and fell apart on Zion Williamson during that game vs. UNC which most likely caused his knee injury, Nike made a shoe especially for him to play with. During the game against the Orange Zion wore the Nike Kyrie 4’s, but they were not the ones you or I can buy at the store. They were custom made for Williamson with additional padding and reinforcements allowing the 6-foot 7-inch 285 lb. big man to make aggressive cuts and plant his feet without encountering the problem that occurred a month ago.
Nike has this to say, "We're thrilled to see Zion returning to the court. After working closely with the Duke basketball team to examine the issue, we are confident this was an isolated incident. We continue to work with Duke, and all of our partner programs, to ensure we are providing the best product for their athletes,"
Duke Needs Zion to Contend for the Championship
It is obvious that the Blue Devils are not the same force without Williamson lacing them up. Duke is 24-2 with him playing, and they are 3-3 when he is not on the court. They are clearly not the same looking team without him. Teams can score easily on Duke down low in the paint when he is not patrolling the floor. His offensive production is needed, and it also opens up other teammates for open looks. With Zion I think they have a great chance to win the NCAA tournament, but without him, I am not sure they make the sweet sixteen.
This is what Williamson told reporters about being back in action with his team. "I love this game, I love my teammates, so people who thought I wasn't going to return they weren't smart. I love playing with Duke. I love my teammates and it was great to be back," Williamson said in his postgame interview with ESPN, h/t Forbes' Adam Zagoria. "I come ready to kill every game, so it was just great to get back on the court."
“Zion 13-of-13 with 29 points in victorious return”, David M. Hale, espn.com, March 15, 2019
“Zion Williamson After Return vs. Syracuse: I Come Ready to Kill Every Game”, Kyle Newport, bleachereport.com, March 14, 2019