Zion Williamson, Duke hold off UCF to reach Sweet 16 | TribLIVE.com
U.S./World Sports

Zion Williamson, Duke hold off UCF to reach Sweet 16

Associated Press
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Getty Images
Collin Smith of the UCF Knights reacts against the Duke Blue Devils during the second half at Colonial Life Arena on March 24, 2019 in Columbia, S.C.
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AP
Duke’s Zion Williamson shoots over Central Florida’s Tacko Fall during the second half of a second-round game.
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AP
Duke’s bench reacts to a play during the second half of the team’s second-round men’s college basketball game against Central Florida in the NCAA Tournament in Columbia, S.C. Sunday, March 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Zion Williamson took on 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall at the end and won. So did top-seeded Duke — barely — when two last-ditch shots by UCF rolled off the rim.

Williamson had 32 points and helped rally the Blue Devils from behind in the final minute for a 77-76 victory Sunday to reach the Sweet 16.

Aubrey Dawkins finished with 32 points for the Knights, but his tip-in try just missed in the final seconds.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski “talks a lot about the basketball gods,” a happy Williamson said. “They had our backs today.”

Williamson was key to the comeback. He made a layup over Fall with 14.4 seconds left to draw Duke within a point as Fall fouled out on the play. Williamson missed the free throw, but RJ Barrett scored on a putback to put the Blue Devils (31-5) ahead.

Barrett said he had watched plenty of NCAA Tournament games where players missed foul shots and an offensive rebound could have made the difference.

“I was going to do whatever I can to get this rebound,” he said.

Ninth-seeded UCF (24-9) had a final chance. Two of them, actually, from in close.

B.J. Taylor missed a short jumper, and Dawkins failed on his tip attempt with less than two seconds left, the ball spinning off the rim. Duke got the rebound, ran out the clock and moved on to the Sweet 16 for 27th time and fourth time in the past five years.

“It was up there forever, I felt like, in slow motion,” Dawkins said.

Dawkins cringed at the miss. His father, Johnny, is the UCF coach and was a former Duke star and longtime assistant under Krzyzewski. The two coaches shared a long embrace at midcourt after it was over.

“It’s tough,” the elder Dawkins said. “I love that man. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Barrett finished with 16 points.

It looked as if Dawkins might take down his dad’s alma mater in the NCAAs.

His last basket broke a 70-70 tie, and when Fall dunked Taylor’s miss — the play was reviewed for a possible shot-clock violation — the Knights were ahead 74-70.

UCF missed a huge chance to go up six when it couldn’t connect on an alley-oop dunk attempt with 1:49 left — Dayon Griffin’s lob went off Dawkins’ hands as he soared toward the rim — and Cam Reddish came back with a 3-pointer for Duke. Taylor made it 76-73 with two foul shots with 45 seconds to go.

Williamson then missed a 3, but Duke grabbed the rebound and got the ball back to their high-flying freshman. Williams caught a pass left of the key and dribbled straight into Fall’s 7-6, 310-pound frame.

Fall had stuffed Williamson three previous times, and Duke’s young star was less effective underneath than he had been his past four games. But Williamson got this shot to drop, shouting as he fell hard to the ground.

“I just tried to stay big and make a play,” Fall said. “Obviously, I was in foul trouble, so I was being careful. But I just tried to make a play and make him miss and it didn’t go my way.”

When Duke dribbled away with the final rebound, Williamson and his teammates jumped in celebration and relief. They were moving on.

Duke will face fourth-seeded Virginia Tech in Washington, D.C., on Friday night for a spot in the Elite Eight.

Williamson, the game’s most explosive player, was clearly affected by Fall. Who wouldn’t be as the Knights senior stood 11 inches taller than Williamson and has a wingspan of 8-foot-4?

With Fall inside, Williamson went to the perimeter, hitting three 3-pointers after entering with just 18 on the season. When Fall was hit with foul trouble, Williamson charged to the hoop.

Fall finished with 15 points and six rebounds in his final college game.

Trailing 34-32 in the final four minutes of the opening half, Williamson hit a short jumper, and then collected Jordan Goldwire’s miss for a three-point play. Duke led 44-36 at the break.

Williamson had 15 points in the first half but had not dunked on the tall Fall — mainly because UCF’s center played just eight minutes due to foul trouble.

Categories: Sports | US-World
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