Zion Williamson, Duke survive Virginia Tech scare, advance to Elite Eight

The Duke Blue Devils have flaws. Many flaws. And for two hours on Friday night in Washington, DC, Virginia Tech poked at them. Prodded. Raised the possibility that those flaws might be one too many for a Final Four run.

But the Duke Blue Devils, as you might have heard, also have Zion Williamson.

Around him, they have one of the best freshman classes in recent college basketball memory.

And even without one of that class’ four premium members, three of the four were just barely special enough to lead the Blue Devils past the Hokies and to the Elite Eight.

Down 75-73 with less than 30 seconds remaining, Virginia Tech had two opportunities to win the game or send it to overtime. But Ahmed Hill missed a 3-pointer from the corner. After an offensive rebound, Ty Outlaw missed another would-be winner. On the Hokies’ third try, Hill missed a falling layup at the rim. And the Blue Devils survived.

Duke took Virginia Tech’s best shot. It was spread thin by the Hokies’ perimeter-oriented offense. It was bothered by their defensive activity and toughness. It was shorthanded, without an injured Cam Reddish. It trailed at halftime, and for the majority of the 40 minutes.

But the freshmen made plays. A lot of them. Enough of them to see Duke through to a matchup with Michigan State.

Williamson made the most eye-popping ones. He was superhuman early, soaring for blocks and put-back slams. But he wasn’t as much of a focal point as he needed to be. His 11 first-half points were efficient but insufficient. Virginia Tech led by four at halftime.

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ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 28: Tariq Owens #11 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders celebrates after a dunk against the Michigan Wolverines during the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Honda Center on March 28, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MARCH 28: Carsen Edwards #3 of the Purdue Boilermakers goes up for a layup against Admiral Schofield #5 of the Tennessee Volunteers during overtime of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at the KFC YUM! Center on March 28, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MARCH 28: Mamadi Diakite #25 of the Virginia Cavaliers gets in a scuffle with Ehab Amin #4 of the Oregon Ducks during the second half of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at the KFC YUM! Center on March 28, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 28: Rui Hachimura #21 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs dunks the ball against Mfiondu Kabengele #25 of the Florida State Seminoles during the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Honda Center on March 28, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Purdue center Matt Haarms celebrates during overtime of a men's NCAA Tournament college basketball South Regional semifinal game against Tennessee Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. Purdue won 99-94. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Michigan guard Charles Matthews, left, and guard Jordan Poole leave the court after the team's loss to Texas Tech during an NCAA men's college basketball tournament West Region semifinal Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Texas Tech forward Deshawn Corprew, middle, reaches for a loose ball between Michigan guard Zavier Simpson, left, and guard Charles Matthews during the first half an NCAA men's college basketball tournament West Region semifinal Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Florida State guard Trent Forrest, left, blocks a shot by Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. during the second half an NCAA men's college basketball tournament West Region semifinal Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Purdue's Ryan Cline (14) and Carsen Edwards celebrate after defeating Tennessee 99-94 in overtime of a men's NCAA Tournament college basketball South Regional semifinal game Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman (23) beats out LSU forward Darius Days (22) for the loose ball during the first half of an East Regional semifinal in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Friday, March 29, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Auburn's Chuma Okeke yells out in pain after being injured during the second half of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against North Carolina Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
North Carolina's Seventh Woods, left, and Kenny Williams pause near the end of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against Auburn Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Michigan State forward Gabe Brown (13) and teammates react after he scored against LSU guard Marlon Taylor (14) during the second half of a semifinal in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament East Region in Washington, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Auburn's Anfernee McLemore celebrates at the end of the first half of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against North Carolina Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Auburn's Chuma Okeke (5) grabs his leg as he loses control of the ball on his way to the basket as North Carolina's Cameron Johnson (13) and North Carolina's Brandon Robinson, left, defend during the second half of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. Okeke was injured on the play. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Auburn's Danjel Purifoy (3) and Austin Wiley (50) celebrate near the end of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against North Carolina Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 29: Ahmed Hill #13 of the Virginia Tech Hokies reacts after missing a layup against the Duke Blue Devils late in the second half in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 29, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 29: Ahmed Hill #13 of the Virginia Tech Hokies reacts after missing a layup against the Duke Blue Devils late in the second half in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 29, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 29: Anfernee McLemore #24 of the Auburn Tigers celebrates against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 29, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 29: Brandon Robinson #4 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after being defeated by the Auburn Tigers 97-80 during the 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 29, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 29: Brandon Robinson #4 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts against the Auburn Tigers during the 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 29, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Duke guard Tre Jones (3) reacts after scoring against Virginia Tech during the second half of an NCAA men's college basketball tournament East Region semifinal in Washington, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Kentucky's Immanuel Quickley celebrates as time expires in a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against Houston Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Virginia Tech guard Ahmed Hill (13) celebrates after scoring, next to Duke forward Zion Williamson (1) during the first half of an NCAA men's college basketball tournament East Region semifinal in Washington, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Auburn's Danjel Purifoy (3) and Austin Wiley (50) celebrate near the end of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against North Carolina Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Houston's Galen Robinson Jr. (25) walks off the court as Kentucky celebrates in the background following a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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And the Blue Devils would have been in an even deeper hole had it not been for Tre Jones’ shooting. Virginia Tech didn’t dare Tre Jones to shoot like UCF did. But Jones was nonetheless shooting, and doing so accurately. He hit three of his four first-half 3s, and five of seven on the night – four more than he had made in any game since November.

But it was Williamson and his roommate, R.J. Barrett, who really led the Duke comeback in the second half. Barrett had been more of a distributor in the first half, racking up only three points but dishing out seven assists. In the second, he did what he does best: score.

He poured in 15 second-half points despite not making a single 3 all night. His points-assists double-double was the first by a Duke player in the NCAA tournament since Bobby Hurley’s in the early 1990s.

Williamson, meanwhile, was darn near unstoppable. Virginia Tech tried everything. Double-teams. Sometimes triple-teams. The Hokies left shooters alone to help on his drives, and did take a couple of charges.

But Zion didn’t miss a second-half field goal. He was 11 for 14 on the night. He seemingly got to the rim at will, and willed Duke to victory.

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