Tennessee takes down Duke with defense, clutch shooting to reach Sweet 16
Turnovers and foul trouble sent No. 5 Duke to a 65-52 loss to No. 4 Tennessee in the second round of the NCAA men's tournament, dealing a brutal end to what had been a very promising late-season run under first-year coach Jon Scheyer.
Down 21-20 with under five minutes left in the first half, Tennessee went on a 9-0 run to take the halftime lead and never trailed the rest of the way. While Duke drew as close as five points with six minutes left in the second half, the Volunteers responded with clutch shooting by Olivier Nkamhoua to win the first tournament meeting between the two programs.
Tennessee was able to fend off the ACC champions by scoring 18 points off 15 Duke turnovers and notching 12 second-chance points. The Blue Devils shot just 37.1% from the field.
The Volunteers were led by Nkamhoua, a senior forward who finished with 27 points on 10 of 13 shooting, and senior guard Santiago Vescovi, who chipped in 14 points, five rebounds and five assists.
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Nkamhoua's shooting was critical in the second half. His field goal and three on consecutive possessions stopped a Duke run that had cut its deficit to four with nine minutes left. He would scored 13 points in a row for Tennessee, capped by a three with four minutes left that pushed the Volunteers 11 and put the game away.
"That's what we do," Nkamhoua said. "We're a tough, hard-nosed team. That's how we play everybody. But knowing that they had a lot of freshmen, we knew that if we come in and apply more pressure and be tough and physical, then they would have to deal with it."
With junior guard Jeremy Roach picking up his fourth foul less than midway into the second half and no reliable depth off the bench, the Blue Devils were forced to rely on the same starting five while the Volunteers had nine players log at least 11 minutes.
Duke was already without starting forward Mark Mitchell, who suffered a knee injury at practice Friday and was a late scratch, according to the CBS broadcast.
With Dariq Whitehead moving into the starting lineup, frontcourt backups Jacob Grandison and Ryan Young played a combined 21 minutes and scored just two points; the Blue Devils were heavily outscored with Grandison and Young were on the court.
The 52 points scored were tied the record for lowest by Duke in a tournament game.
The result is deeply frustrating for Duke, which had seemingly turned a corner in Scheyer's debut by winning nine in a row to end the regular season and then rolling past No. 12 Oral Roberts 74-51 in the first round. Before Mitchell missed the game, the Blue Devils had gone 19-1 with its entire lineup healthy.
Already a trendy pick to advance deep into the tournament, the Blue Devils' path back to the Final Four seemed even easier after No. 1 Purdue's historic loss to No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson.
The loss sends Duke packing in the second round for the first time since 2017. The Blue Devils had reached the Elite Eight in the program's past three tournament appearances, all under longtime coach Mike Krzyzewski, who retired after last season.
"We've had really a great season, and it's hard to reflect on all of that right now in the moment," Scheyer said. "I'm hurting for these guys. They've given us everything you could ask for. They've fought through adversity. They've stuck together when things weren't looking as good and came into this game one of the hottest teams in the country, and we felt like we were supposed to win this game, as did they."
The Volunteers will advance to the Sweet 16 against the winner of Sunday's matchup between the Knights and No. 9 Florida Atlantic. This is coach Rick Barnes' eighth Sweet 16 bid overall and second at Tennessee.
"I'll tell you what, no team deserves more than what's happened -- what these guys have gone out and earned this week, and I'm just so proud," Barnes said. "As a coaching staff we're proud of them, and looking forward to getting going next week."