Zion Williamson made his much-anticipated return to the court for Duke late Thursday night against Syracuse in the ACC tournament, and folks, he did not disappoint.
In five games without their star, the Blue Devils lost twice — to Virginia Tech and North Carolina — and looked noticeably different on the court. The team announced on Thursday morning that Williamson would be back for Duke's quarterfinal against the Orange.
FILM STUDY: How Duke was different without Zion
He didn't waste any time reacquainting himself with the college basketball world as he led Duke to an 84-72 win over a Syracuse team that was one of only two to beat the Blue Devils at home this season. Williamson rocketed Duke to an early lead, and finished with 29 points as the Blue Devils advanced to the semifinals against North Carolina.
Williamson told ESPN's Allison Williams after the game that he could have returned before Thursday night, but Duke wanted to make sure he was 100 percent.
"I have a lot of energy," Williamson said, "but I come ready to kill every game. It was just great to be back on the court."
1. Zion announced his return in a familiar way
Williamson scored Duke's first bucket of the game on a layup. His second came on a slam that we've seen before. After pickpocketing Syracuse's Frank Howard, Williamson scooped up the ball and familiarized himself with the rim.
ZION. BACK! 💪pic.twitter.com/SRNtqjYfjL— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 15, 2019
The scoop-and-score is one of the lasting highlights we'll have from Williams at Duke. He's been doing it all season.
2. SO. MANY. DUNKS.
Williamson threw down four dunks IN THE FIRST HALF. That's outrageous.
Including this alley-oop:
RJ lobs to Zion are BACK! 😱 @DukeMBB pic.twitter.com/1cf4Zr9Lxa— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 15, 2019
Just look at the air on this one:
Air Zion ✈️ pic.twitter.com/zChwlZmDmX— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 15, 2019
Which hand? Doesn't matter.
Left?— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 15, 2019
Doesn't matter to Zion. 💪 @DukeMBB pic.twitter.com/m8v7O9euw8
3. He literally couldn't miss
Williamson piled up 21 points on 9-for-9 shooting in the first half alone. His scoring output slowed in the second half as Syracuse focused its defense on him, but Williamson didn't miss in the second half either! He finished 13 for 13.
Zion Williamson has made his first 13 shots tonight, tying Brad Daugherty of North Carolina on Nov. 24, 1985 against UCLA for the most consecutive makes in a single game by an ACC player. pic.twitter.com/OQNWAqG4Yd— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 15, 2019
After Syracuse scored in the first minute, Williamson outscored the Orange by himself for almost 18 minutes. Can't do much better than that. That start gave him some incredible company.
Zion Williamson is the first player with 20 points and 5 steals in an ACC Tournament game since Tyler Hansbrough in 2009. pic.twitter.com/FwDA43fgKr— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 15, 2019
4. Zion did everything else, too
He filled the stat sheet with 14 rebounds, including seven offensive boards, and had five steals. Williamson's defense might be even better than his offense, and it was on display here. That alley-oop from above? Look how it started:
Teamwork at its finest 👌— ESPN (@espn) March 15, 2019
(📍 @INFINITIUSA) pic.twitter.com/MhIzlFn0Jl
As far as all-around performances go, it is almost impossible to do better than this. Williamson contributed everywhere.
5. Syracuse didn't lie down and made things interesting
The first half was fun, but this game wouldn't have been as gripping if Duke were able to just run away with things in the second half.
Syracuse battled back to make it a six-point game at halftime, and tied it up with 13 minutes left in the game. Zion's explosion was fun, but 'Cuse's fight probably kept you from changing the channel. The Orange didn't seriously threaten late, but things never got out of hand.
Things are about to get even more fun
Williamson played one possession before his knee injury in Duke-North Carolina Round 1. He sat out Round 2 as he continued to recover. Duke's win means we'll get to see a Duke-North Carolina game with Zion on the court. After his absence quickly took the air out of the first matchup, Williamson makes Friday's game (approximately 9 p.m., ESPN) a can't-miss event.