The truth of that prediction will play out in Minneapolis, Minn., site of the Final Four over the first weekend in April. But nothing’s guaranteed between then and now, either. At home at Cameron, the crowd has shockingly hushed for the first time since the team emerged from Duke’s wood-panelled locker room — having met with Obama, who did indeed show. It’s only 36 seconds into the game, but Williamson is writhing on the floor and holding his knee before being helped off, not to return. It will be forever known as the ‘Shoe Game’ as Williamson’s Duke-provided Nike exploded under the stress of his sharp change of direction. The game resumes, but the Blue Devils are off-kilter, even as their home crowd recovers and pumps up the volume again. North Carolina pulls away early and Duke can’t threaten, losing in a rare blowout at home. The story is Williamson, his injury, and whether he should chance coming back to play at all with the NBA millions beckoning.
The risk of injury with a professional career around the corner faces Barrett, too. “You never really think about that,” he says afterwards in a subdued Duke locker room. “You just think about coming in and winning the game. For him to get injured, it sucks. I really hope he’s OK quick.”
Even as the primary focus of opposing defences, Barrett goes on a bit of tear with Williamson sidelined. He finishes with 33 points, 13 rebounds and four assists against UNC and, a few days later, he avenges one of Duke’s few losses with a near-perfect outing on the road, contributing 30 points, five rebounds and seven assists against Syracuse in front of 35,642, the largest crowd to ever watch a college game in an on-campus arena. He averages 26 points, eight rebounds and five assists a game on 50 per cent shooting in the six games it takes Williamson to recover, a reminder of why he arrived at Duke as the presumptive No. 1 pick and on the cover of SLAM Magazine. Even with the spotlight turned into a heat lamp, Barrett never wilts.
Originally published at https://www.sportsnet.ca/basketball/nba/rj-barrett-duke-march-madness-big-read/