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Zion Williamson cleared to return for Duke in ACC tournament game vs. Syracuse - The Washington Post

Zion Williamson sprained his right knee on Feb. 20. (Gerry Broome)

By Jacob Bogage

Jacob Bogage

National sports writer and blogger

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March 14 at 12:59 PM

Zion Williamson, the star Duke freshman forward and likely future No. 1 NBA draft pick, has been cleared to play in Thursday night’s ACC tournament game against Syracuse in Charlotte.

Williamson has been out since Feb. 20, when he sprained his right knee on a bizarre play seconds into a nationally televised matchup against rival North Carolina. The 6-foot-7, 285-pound Williamson drove to his right across the lane and tried to spin back left, but the cloth side of his left shoe ripped away from the sole. Williamson slid to the floor grasping at his right knee and did not return to the game.

The freak accident caused an uproar over the NBA’s age restriction rule and the NCAA’s amateurism regulations. It also cost Nike’s stock nearly a dollar per share on Wall Street the next day, but it has since rebounded.

Before the injury, Williamson averaged 21.6 points per game for the No. 5 Blue Devils with 8.8 rebounds. He was shooting better than 68 percent from the floor, and left NBA scouts salivating over his explosiveness, keen floor awareness and refined scoring ability.

Duke began the night of his injury as the top-ranked team in the country, but fell to the Tar Heels, 88-72 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Without Williamson, the Devils (26-5, 14-4 ACC) have lost three of six games, including a road loss at Virginia Tech and another loss to North Carolina to end the regular season.

Duke faces Syracuse on Thursday night in the conference quarterfinal. The Devils, the tournament’s third seed, have not played in six days thanks to byes in the bracket’s first two rounds. If they can unseat second-seeded North Carolina and top-seeded Virginia for the ACC title, or even an appearance in the championship game, they could earn a top seed in the NCAA tournament.

The Orange upset Duke earlier this year at home, in a dramatic 95-91 overtime win. Williamson had 35 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. He sat out Duke’s other game against Syracuse with the knee injury.

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At ACC and Southern Conference tournaments, a tale of two leagues

From 2018: One Crying Moment: 15 unforgettable NCAA tournament defeats

From 2016: Mason Madness: Inside the most unlikely run in NCAA tournament history