CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Zion Williamson had the go-ahead tip-in on his own miss with 30.3 seconds left and fifth-ranked Duke held off third-ranked North Carolina 74-73 on Friday night in the Atlantic Coast Conference semifinals.
Williamson had 31 points and 11 rebounds and the Blue Devils (28-5) survived a fight with their fierce rival in a classic that went down to the final play. Ultimately Duke hung on, but needed a final stop. After RJ Barrett missed two free throws with 12.4 seconds left, UNC pushed downcourt for Coby White to get a contested long jumper.
The shot rattled around the rim and out as Nassir Little crashed the glass for a desperate tip attempt, sending Duke’s bench into celebration and leaving a disappointed White crouching at midcourt.
Cameron Johnson had 23 points for the Tar Heels (27-6). They shot 40 percent and led by four in the final three minutes but couldn’t hold on.
Duke: This tournament has largely been about Williamson’s return from the injury that had sidelined him for nearly six full games, and what it means for the Blue Devils going forward. He had 29 points on 13-for-13 shooting — the best performance without a miss in the event’s 66-year history — in the quarterfinal win against Syracuse. Williamson had another big game, but the Blue Devils also got sparks from spot-duty reserves like Jordan Goldwire and Antonio Vrankovic while Javin DeLaurier’s work on the boards kept Duke in it early as UNC was in full sprint by the opening tip. It was another sign that Duke, with Williamson back, is closer to being the version that spent a national-best seven weeks at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 this season.
UNC: The Tar Heels had claimed their first regular-season sweep of the Blue Devils since 2009, a year that ended with Roy Williams claiming his second NCAA championship. They were trying to beat Duke three times in a season for the first time since 1976, though Williamson barely played in the first game and not at all in the second due to a knee sprain. The Tar Heels proved they’re on level footing with the Blue Devils with Williamson back, but couldn’t figure out a way to close it out.
Duke: The Blue Devils advanced to the championship game against 12th-ranked Florida State. The Seminoles upset No. 2 Virginia in the s first semifinal.
UNC: The Tar Heels are headed to the NCAA Tournament, though it’s unclear whether they’ve done enough to secure a No. 1 seed.