This story cracked like a whip, and for Zeller, it seared.
In one minute, the 7-footer went from playing possibly the best game of his career to absolute goat. And frankly, it’ll be that last minute that defines this game.
It started when Zeller went to the charity stripe with an 82-80 lead and 44 seconds remaining. The 79 percent free throw shooter hit 1-of-2. Then on the next play, Zeller accidentally tipped Ryan Kelly’s short 3-pointer into Duke’s basket. Two points, 83-82.Zeller was fouled with 14 seconds remaining. Again, the 79 percent free throw shooter hit 1-of-2. And then Duke guard Austin Rivers hit his game-winning 3-pointer over Zeller from well-beyond the arc. Zeller would do it differently if he could.
“I didn’t want to foul him and put him on the free throw line, but you can’t give up a 3-pointer when you’re up two,” Zeller said.
Thirty-nine minutes for one. Not necessarily a fair trade. And in the first 39 minutes of No. 5 North Carolina’s 85-84 loss to No. 10 Duke, Zeller was unstoppable.
“I thought Zeller and John were really big,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “I just thought we made some mistakes at the end, and that’s the bottom line.”