Sports

Zion Williamson leads the way as Duke puts on a show at Notre Dame

Coach K said the Blue Devils ‘just want to win and are really happy for one another.’

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski discusses his team's superior play after the Blue Devils beat Notre Dame 83-61 in an ACC basketball game on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019.
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Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski discusses his team's superior play after the Blue Devils beat Notre Dame 83-61 in an ACC basketball game on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019.

When Duke’s traveling road show comes to town, Zion Williamson offers just one dunk for opposing fans during pregame warmups.

They can beg and scream but that’s their only joy.

“After that, it’s straight layups and jumpers,” said Williamson, who delivered on tomahawk dunk in Monday’s pregame at Notre Dame.

Once the game begins he’s glad to show the fans more moves and it’s up to them whether they decide to enjoy them or not.

Williamson and No. 2 Duke played so well Monday night at Notre Dame, turning the game lopsided within the first 10 minutes, the Irish student section was willing to enjoy the show.

The 6-7 freshman scored 26 points, grabbed nine rebounds, blocked four shots and collected four assists as the Blue Devils walloped Notre Dame 83-61 at Purcell Pavilion.

Williamson’s roommate and running buddy, RJ Barrett, also impressed the capacity crowd and the nearly two dozen NBA scouts on hand. Barrett contributed 17 points -- making three 3-pointers -- while also grabbing nine rebounds.

While this looks like a nightly case of one friend trying to one-up the other, Williamson said the two enjoy seeing each other succeed. Together, they know they make Duke perhaps the toughest matchup for any team in the country.

“It’s just a matter of who is feeling it,” Williamson said. “If I’m feeling it, RJ will be over there, like, man keep killing it. Don’t stop. If he’s killing, I’m like, bro, be you, bro. Kill them, bro. So it’s just a matter of who is on. Now if we are both on, I feel bad for the other team.”

Duke Blue Devils star Zion Wiliamson said if he and his fellow freshman star, RJ Barrett, are both on their games on the same night opposing teams have little chance to beat the Blue Devils. They led Duke past Notre Dame on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019.

Duke headliners

Mike Brey won’t accept anyone’s pity but the last three days were almost unfair.

On Saturday, Virginia walked into Notre Dame’s Purcell Pavilion and waltzed its way to an 82-55 win.

Two nights later, the Blue Devils battered Brey’s team and left him amazed at what they possess.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen individual gifted talent like that come through our building at multiple spots,” Brey said. “They’re really gifted.”

Williamson and Barrett are the headliners.

On Monday, fellow freshman Cam Reddish got in on the act offensively. The 6-8 Reddish sank three 3-pointers on the way to a 13-point night that also included three assists and two steals.

Duke’s fourth freshman starter, point guard Tre Jones, had nine points while five assists and two steals.

The vast amount of talent was just too much for injury-riddled Notre Dame (11-10, 1-7 in ACC). And that’s before considering how well this Duke team is playing together.

“They just want to win and they are really happy for one another,” Krzyzewski said. “It is quite obvious that Zion (Williamson) makes spectacular plays on both ends of the court. Sometimes his defense is overshadowed by some of the dunks he has but they want him to be good and he wants the other guys to be good. RJ (Barrett) has been a warrior for us and late in the game we went to Cam (Reddish) a little bit more. They are in it for the four letters on the front of their jerseys there is no question.”

Brey’s game plan included a zone defense designed to curtail the points Williamson and Barrett could score inside while forcing the Blue Devils to shoot jump shots.

The best Blue Devils

Duke entered the night having made just 26.3 percent of its 3-point shot attempts in ACC play. But the first two shots the Blue Devils hit were 3-pointers as they rolled to a 17-2 lead.

Brey could only shake his head.

“We kind of said that we were going to give up threes because the numbers said to let them shoot some jump shots,” Brey said. “Of course, with the law of averages, they come out stroking the thing pretty good. They’re really good.”

The Blue Devils looked closer to the best version of themselves on Monday night.

The team that beat Texas Tech, 69-58, in New York last month and opened ACC play this month with lopsided wins over Clemson and Wake Forest was getting there.

When Williamson missed the second half of Duke’s 80-78 win at Florida State on Jan. 12, the Blue Devils hit the pause button in their development. Reddish missed the Syracuse game with a illness and Jones injured his shoulder and played only five minutes in the 95-91 overtime loss.

Duke beat Virginia, 72-70, and Pittsburgh 79-64 without Jones but were constructed differently without him.

Now the Blue Devils (18-2, 7-1 ACC) are back together and ramping up their play.

“When we lost Tre for three games, whatever habits we had before then, they are not solid yet and when you adjust and adapt with him not being in there,” Krzyzewski said. “But now he is back and the kids are working at it and they took good shots tonight. It was nice to see the ball go in but there will be inconsistencies with individual performance especially from role players and we have to be careful our regular guys don’t get too tired. But as a group we should be consistent in our effort and our defense and so far they’ve done that, a really good job of that.”

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An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.


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