The biggest rivalry in college basketball, the Duke Blue Devils versus the North Carolina Tar Heels had their first meeting of the season Wednesday night at the infamous Cameron Indoor Stadium. With tickets being sold for upwards of $3k and former President of the United States, Barack Obama in attendance, this was undoubtedly the most hyped game of the college basketball season. The No. 1 ranked Blue Devils hoped to continue their success against No. 8 North Carolina at home, where they have prevailed over their Tobacco Road rivals in each of their last two matchups and five of their last six. Duke entered play Wednesday night as a 9.5-point favorite over North Carolina.
The most unexpected development of the game came a mere 33 seconds into regulation when projected No. 1 NBA Draft Pick and National Player of the Year, Freshman Duke Power Forward, Zion Williamson, suffered a game ending knee injury as his Nike PG 2.5 shoe tore apart when planting with the ball. The gruesome injury took Williamson to the floor grabbing the back of his right knee, crying out in apparent excruciating pain. After being helped to the Duke sideline and examined by team trainers, Williamson eventually made his way to the locker room under his own power, albeit with a noticeable limp. Shortly thereafter, Williamson was officially ruled out for the remainder of the game. After the game, Coach K identified the injury as a “mild knee sprain” needing an undetermined period of recovery. Williamson will undergo further evaluation Thursday.
Absent their superstar Power Forward, the Blue Devils struggled to get anything going on offense. Duke shot an abysmal 25-72 (34.7%) from the field and was outscored 62-28 in the paint. The emotional impact of Williamson’s absence was undeniable. Duke committed 20 turnovers, 17 fouls and had an underwhelming 13 offensive rebounds. The only bright spots from Duke’s performance, RJ Barrett and Cameron Reddish’s season best 33- and 27-point games. No matter how you look at it, this was an uncharacteristically sloppy performance by Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils.
On the other side of the court, the Tar Heels took advantage of the early shakeup and maintained a commanding lead throughout regulation play, where they led for 39:40. Despite shooting an unimpressive 2-20 (10%) from 3-point range, North Carolina posted an astounding 62 points inside the paint, with Forward Luke May and Small Forward Cameron Johnson carrying much of the offensive show with 30-point, 15-rebound, and 26-point, 7-rebound performances respectively.
At the end of regulation, North Carolina prevailed over Duke 88-72. Both teams leave Cameron 11-2 in ACC play, entering important conference battles against No. 16 Florida State and Syracuse this weekend. The biggest question going into the weekend, what does the future hold for Zion Williamson?