Williamson out as No. 3 Duke plays at No. 20 Virginia Tech
Duke figured out how to cope without freshman star Zion Williamson for one game.
It will have to do it again Tuesday night when the third-ranked Blue Devils play at No. 20 Virginia Tech in an ACC game in Blacksburg, Va.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters Monday that Williamson is making progress from a Grade 1 knee sprain suffered last Wednesday, but he added that the program will be cautious about the forward’s return.
“There’s no timetable,” Krzyzewski said. “We don’t want to put the pressure of time on him.”
Williamson went out with a sprained knee Wednesday night in the opening minute of a loss to North Carolina. He didn’t play Saturday night at Syracuse, but the Blue Devils found other sources to get it done in a 75-65 victory.
Most notably, RJ Barrett scored 30 points and sophomore guard Alex O’Connell added a career-best 20 points.
“We practiced a couple of days without Zion so we got a feel for our team without him,” O’Connell said. “As great of a player as he is, we have a lot of other talented guys on the team. It just shows once he gets back we will be an even stronger team.”
Duke (24-3, 12-2 ACC) shares first place in the conference with Virginia and North Carolina, while the Hokies (21-6, 10-5) sit in fourth place.
Virginia Tech is also dealing with the absence of a top player, having gone a few weeks without standout guard Justin Robinson, who has a foot injury. The Hokies are 4-3 since he went out, and coach Buzz Williams is keeping a timetable for his potential return under wraps.
“As our roster has changed, we categorize guys in one or two ways in rebounding — they’re either go-gets or get-backs guys,” Williams said. “One way we try to gain possessions is through offensive rebounding, which has never been a forte of ours.”
Redshirt junior forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. has become a go-to player for the Hokies, recording double-doubles in the past two games.
“He has just become integral to literally everything we do on both ends,” Williams said.
Barrett, who leads the ACC with 23.3 points per game, drained several big shots from the perimeter at Syracuse, but he also picked up some of the interior slack for Duke.
“It was just important for me to get in there and make reads,” Barrett said.
Barrett leads the ACC with six games with 30 or more points. He has set a conference freshman record with 20 games with at least 20 points; the previous mark of 19 was set by Georgia Tech guard Kenny Anderson in 1989-90.
Duke will be playing its third game in seven days. This trip will be its final out-of-state game until the NCAA Tournament, as all eyes continue to be on the potential return of Williamson, the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
“The main thing is for him to get healthy and continue to improve,” Krzyzewski said via ESPN. “We’ve got some new things we saw against Syracuse (on Saturday) and maybe there’ll be more (vs. Virginia Tech).”
Virginia Tech has lost two of its past three home games, falling to Louisville and Virginia, with a victory against Georgia Tech in between.
Duke has lost in each of the past two seasons in Blacksburg.