Columbia, S.C. — Zion Williamson took on 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall at the end and won. So did top-seeded Duke – barely – when two last-ditch shots by UCF rolled off the rim.
Williamson had 32 points and helped rally the Blue Devils from behind in the final minute for a 77-76 victory Sunday to reach the Sweet 16.
Aubrey Dawkins finished with 32 points for the Knights, but his tip-in try just missed in the final seconds.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski “talks a lot about the basketball gods,” a happy Williamson said. “They had our backs today.”
Williamson was key to the comeback. He made a layup over Fall with 14.4 seconds left to draw Duke within a point as Fall fouled out on the play. Williamson missed the free throw, but RJ Barrett scored on a putback to put the Blue Devils (31-5) ahead.
Barrett said he had watched plenty of NCAA Tournament games where players missed foul shots and an offensive rebound could have made the difference.
“I was going to do whatever I can to get this rebound,” he said.
Ninth-seeded UCF (24-9) had a final chance. Two of them, actually, from in close.
B.J. Taylor missed a short jumper, and Dawkins failed on his tip attempt with less than two seconds left, the ball spinning off the rim. Duke got the rebound, ran out the clock and moved on to the Sweet 16 for 27th time and fourth time in the past five years.
“It was up there forever, I felt like, in slow motion,” Dawkins said.
Dawkins cringed at the miss. His father, Johnny, is the UCF coach and was a former Duke star and longtime assistant under Krzyzewski. The two coaches shared a long embrace at midcourt after it was over.
“It’s tough,” the elder Dawkins said. “I love that man. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Barrett finished with 16 points.
It looked as if Dawkins might take down his dad’s alma mater in the NCAAs.
His last basket broke a 70-all tie, and when Fall dunked Taylor’s miss – the play was reviewed for a possible shot-clock violation – the Knights were ahead 74-70.
UCF missed a huge chance to go up six when it couldn’t connect on an alley-oop dunk attempt with 1:49 left – Dayon Griffin’s lob went off Dawkins’ hands as he soared toward the rim – and Cam Reddish came back with a 3-pointer for Duke. Taylor it made 76-73 with two foul shots with 45 seconds to go.
Williamson then missed a 3, but Duke grabbed the rebound and got the ball back to their high-flying freshman. Williams caught a pass left of the key and dribbled straight into Fall’s 7-6, 310-pound frame.
Fall had stuffed Williamson three previous times, and Duke’s young star was less effective underneath than he’d been his past four games. But Williamson got this shot to drop, shouting as he fell hard to the ground.
“I just tried to stay big and make a play,” Fall said. “Obviously, I was in foul trouble, so I was being careful. But I just tried to make a play and make him miss and it didn’t go my way.”
When Duke dribbled away with the final rebound, Williamson and his teammates jumped in celebration and relief. They were moving on.
Duke will face fourth-seeded Virginia Tech in Washington, D.C., on Friday night for a spot in the Elite Eight.
Williamson, the game’s most explosive player, was clearly affected by Fall. Who wouldn’t be as the Knights senior stood 11 inches taller than Williamson and has a wingspan of 8-foot-4?
With Fall inside, Williamson went to the perimeter, hitting three 3-pointers after entering with just 18 on the season. When Fall was hit with foul trouble, Williamson charged to the hoop.
Fall finished with 15 points and six rebounds in his final college game.
Trailing 34-32 in the final four minutes of the opening half, Williamson hit a short jumper, and then collected Jordan Goldwire’s miss for a three-point play. Barrett added a three-point play and Williamson threw a one-handed bounce pass to a streaking Jones for an easy layup as Duke led 44-36 at the break.
Williamson had 15 points in the first half, but had not dunked on the tall Fall – mainly because UCF’s center played just eight minutes due to foul trouble.
Virginia 63, Oklahoma 51: Surprise starter Mamadi Diakite scored 14 points and had nine rebounds as No. 1 seed Virginia beat Oklahoma, leading nearly the entire game.
The Cavaliers (31-3) led for all but three minutes of the second-round contest and cranked up its trademark, stifling defense. The Sooners (20-14) hit just four of their last 18 shots in the first half and trailed 31-22 at the break.
After Kihel Clark’s putback on the first possession of the second half, Virginia’s lead never dipped below 10 again as the Cavaliers held Oklahoma to 36.5 percent shooting.
Ty Jerome added 12 points and Braxton Key had nine for the Cavaliers.
Brady Manek and Chistian James each scored 12 for the Sooners.
Virginia Tech Tech 67, Liberty 58: In San Jose, Calif., Kerry Blackshear had 19 points and nine rebounds as fourth-seeded Virginia Tech topped Liberty to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 52 years.
Ahmed Hill added 14 points and Justin Robinson scored 13 to help the Hokies (25-8) beat their in-state rivals and advance to a matchup with top-seeded Duke.
Darius McGhee scored 15 points to lead Liberty (29-7), which won its first tournament game ever on Friday against Mississippi State. Caleb Homesley was held to eight points on 3-for-11 shooting after scoring 30 points to key the first-round upset.
Tennessee 83, Iowa 77: In Columbus, Ohio, Two-time SEC player of the year Grant Williams scored six points in overtime and Tennessee held off Iowa to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time in three years.
Williams had a pair of free throws, two jumpers, and a strip in overtime that helped the Vols (31-5) pull it out and match their school record for wins in a season. He finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. Admiral Schofield scored 17 of his 19 points in the Vols’ blistering first half.
Tenth-seeded Iowa (23-12) fell behind by 25 points and nearly pulled off a monumental upset, sending it to overtime tied at 71, the first overtime game in this year’s tournament.
Jordan Bohannon scored 18 for Iowa, which never led but managed to tie it twice after falling so far behind.
North Carolina 81, Washington 59: In Columbus, Ohio, Luke Maye and Nassir Little each scored 20 points and top-seeded North Carolina breezed past Washington.
The Tar Heels (29-6) never trailed and moved on to face fifth-seeded Auburn on Friday in a Midwest Regional semifinal.
Maye added 14 rebounds for North Carolina.
The Tar Heels committed 10 turnovers in the first half and led by eight points at the break. But they bolted out in the second half, put together a 13-0 run over five minutes and pulled away.
Pac-12 player of the year Jaylen Nowell paced Washington (28-8) with 12 points.
Oregon 73, UC Irvine 54: In San Jose, Calif., Ehab Amin sparked Oregon out of a long drought to start the second half and the Ducks became the only double-digit seed to advance to the Sweet 16 by beating UC Irvine.
Payton Pritchard led 12th-seeded Oregon (25-12) with 18 points, Louis King added 16 and Amin had 12 points and three steals. The Ducks have won 10 straight after a lackluster start to the season and will play top-seeded Virginia in the South Regional semifinal on Thursday.
After going more than seven minutes without scoring to start the second half and squandering all of a 12-point lead, Oregon used a 15-3 run to take control and end a 17-game winning streak for the 13th-seeded Anteaters (31-6).
Robert Cartwright scored 14 points and Evan Leonard added 11 for UC Irvine.
Houston 74, Ohio State 59: In Tulsa, Okla., Corey Davis scored 21 points to help Houston defeat Ohio State.
It marked the Cougars’ 33rd win of the season — breaking the record set by the 1983-84 team for the most wins in a season. That squad was the last to reach the Sweet 16 and advanced to the national final.
Galen Robinson added 13 points for Houston (33-3), which will face Kentucky.
C.J. Jackson scored 18 points and Kaleb Wesson added 15 for Ohio State (20-15).
A dunk by Chris Harris put the Cougars up 52-44 with just over 10 minutes remaining. A floater in the lane by Armoni Brooks pushed Houston’s lead to nine. A transition layup by Davis pushed the advantage to 11 and the Cougars maintained control for good.