Zion Williamson

USA Today

Duke vs. Louisville Classic

Last night, we saw history.

February 13, 2019 - 11:56 am
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Last night, as I was prepping for today’s show, I was watching Duke-Louisville. Actually, I was watching Louisville absolutely smash Duke, up by more than 20 in the second half. 

Chris Mack has worked a miracle at Louisville this year and seeing his team take a two-by-four to Duke’s face last night was Mack at the Peak of his Powers. That’s a team that nobody expected to do much of anything this year beating the hell out of a team loaded with lottery picks. 

It was a blackout game for Louisville. The team were in their black gear at home, the fans were in their black. And it was Duke’s funeral.

It was 38-29 Cardinals at halftime. And it only got worse from there because Duke came out and hit 2 of their first 17 shots in the second half. There’s cold and then there’s that. Zion was in foul trouble and nobody else in a Duke jersey could do anything. And with less than ten minutes to go, they were down 59-36. That’s 23 points. That’s not losing, that’s getting humiliated. That’s getting embarrassed.

Zion went to the bench with his fourth foul with 12:41 left in the game. The crowd was freaking and Zion was pissed. 

“I’m not going to lie, I was very frustrated. I don’t know if this is cheesy or corny, but when I was on the bench I heard my mom in the stands. She said, ‘It’s OK. Be you. When you get back in, make them pay.’”

Well…it would be cheesy. And corny. If it were anyone other than Zion. And he did make them pay. With mama in his dome, he came back in with 9:41 left in the game and proceeded to completely change the game. And re-write history.

Because that was supposed to be the best win of the Chris Mack Era. Instead, it was the greatest comeback of the Coach K Era. And that is a damn long era. You’re talking about the guy with the most career wins in Division I college basketball and he’s never come back from 23 down in the final 10 minutes. When you make Coach K history, you’re making real history. 

Because that’s the thing. K told his team in a timeout with more than 11 minutes to go that they were going to win. But even he didn’t believe it.

“At that point. I may have been telling them a lie.” And then chased that with: “I was hoping we wouldn’t lose by 35. I’m not kidding.”

I get it. They were on their way to losing by 35. Or more. They’re going up against a top 25, in their own house, who jumped them and started beating on them with a lead pipe. That night could not have been going any worse for Duke. 

So…Last night was supposed to be the night that Duke’s youngsters were exposed. Last night was supposed to be the game where they were humiliated on the road and then weeks from now, we’ll look back on it and say they grew from that. Instead, they didn’t wait for a few days or a few weeks to grow from it. They did it in the moment.

Of course it was Zion there to end it. Coming back from down 23 on the road is absolutely unreal. And yes, some of that is on Louisville for picking a horrible time to play some horrible basketball, but this isn’t about that. This is about Duke. And about Zion.  

Yes, Duke switching to a 2-2-1 press was huge. Cam Reddish was a monster from deep. And Jordan Goldwire had the biggest impact you’ll ever see without actually scoring a bucket, but that press doesn’t matter if you don’t have Zion. 

Because in the final 9 minutes and 41 seconds, he had 11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and a blocked shot. And he did it when it mattered most. If you had any doubt as to whether or not he’s the first pick in this year’s draft and whether or not he could be the guy to change an NBA franchise, pop that tape in your VCR. Because he is THAT GUY. 

Sure, you should’ve known before. You should’ve known when he was dominating one game after another, when he was hitting his head on backboards or blocking shots the way he did against Virginia. But last night was different. Last night wasn’t just about his physical ability, last night was about his will. And his drive.  His heart. The stuff that doesn’t show up on Twitter highlights. Last night was special. 

Oh, and somewhere in the game, he also did this. Tyler Conway of Bleacher Report tweeted out a pic of Zion grabbing the ball so hard that he appeared to be deflating the ball with his fingers. 

If you’re watching on CBS Sports Network, you tell me – is that a Photoshop or is that the strongest man on the planet squeezing the air out of a basketball? That’s where Zion is right now. He’s doing things that I never thought possible. He’s bending my mind to the point that I can’t tell what’s right or what’s wrong. 

I don’t want to call the NCAA tournament in mid-February, but if I had to say right now, I’d say Duke is winning it. But last night was bigger than that. Last night was something special and it’s the kind of performance that I’ll remember for years to come, no matter what Duke does the rest of the way. 

Last night, we saw history. Last night, we were all witnesses. And it felt damn good. 

Quoting the big dude himself….not to be cheesy.  Or corny…but normally, when something seems too good to be true, it is. But not in Zion’s case.  This dude is the real deal.