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Williamson leads Duke past Syracuse in return from injury

The Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Zion Williamson said he never listened to the analysts who suggested he should forego the remainder of his college career at Duke and focus on the NBA.

“I knew I was going to be back,” Williamson said. “Everybody has their right to their own opinion, but I knew I was coming back the whole time.”

With each soaring dunk Thursday, Williamson sent a resounding message to the rest of the college basketball world that he is back — and so are the Blue Devils.

In his first game since a bizarre shoe blowout caused him to miss almost six full games with a sprained knee, Williamson was electrifying, breaking a 66-year-old Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament record by going 13 of 13 from the field — with five soaring dunks — and scoring 29 points to propel No. 5 Duke over Syracuse 84-72.

“He was himself,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Williamson’s return.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim went a step further, calling Williamson a “different player” than he’s ever seen in his 50 years of coaching college basketball.

The Associated Press player and newcomer of the year in the ACC added 14 rebounds, two assists and a block.

Williamson, who wore modified Nike Kyrie 4’s specifically designed to lend extra support to his 6-foot-7, 285-pound frame, said he felt fine physically and there appeared to be no lingering knee issues.

He cracked a smile several times throughout the game, clearly enjoying being back on the floor.

RJ Barrett added 23 points and six rebounds to help Duke (27-5) set up a semifinal showdown with No. 3 North Carolina.

Frank Howard scored 28 points, and Buddy Boeheim had 15 for Syracuse (20-13).