ORLANDO, Fla. — – Olivier Nkamhoua was a little hesitant to walk into Tennessee’s postgame locker room after his performance against powerhouse Duke in the NCAA Tournament. So Uros Plavsic he took it and handed it to his teammates who were waiting to be drenched with water.
It was fitting payback considering Nkamhoua carried the Volunteers for much of the evening.
Nkamhoua tied his career high with 27 points, including 13 straight for Tennessee in a crucial stretch of the second halfand the fourth-seeded Volunteers routed Duke 65-52 on Saturday to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2019.
“We’re a tough, tough team,” Nkamhoua said. “That’s how we all play. But knowing there were a lot of freshmen, we knew if we came in and put more pressure on them and were tough and physical, they were going to have to deal with it.
“What we were saying before the game is we’re going to put them in the mud with us and make them play hard, hard and see if they’re ready.”
They weren’t, and Tennessee’s experience — the Vols start four seniors — proved too much for Duke’s freshmen.
Santiago Vescovi He added 14 points and five assists for Tennessee (25-10), ended Duke’s 10-game winning streak and sent first-year coach Jon Scheyer — tasked with replacing Mike Krzyzewski — home after two games in the NCAA Tournament. Not sure if Coach K could have done anything different against these Vols, as he used a level of “bully ball” to pack the fifth-ranked Blue Devils (27-9).
“We feel like we’re at our best when we can do that,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.
Nkamhoua made 10 of 13 shots put an exclamation point on Tennessee’s victory with an emphatic slam 1:15 left. He sent Vols fans chanting and Duke fans scrambling for the exits.
“You really have to work in a game like this,” said Scheyer, whose team turned the ball over 15 times and went just 6 of 22 from 3-point range. “You have to work to open it up.”
Tennessee faced either Florida Atlantic or Fairleigh Dickinson on Thursday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Duke didn’t handle Tennessee’s imposing style very well all afternoon. The Volunteers set the tone early, clearly looking to push around Kyle Filipowski and get their hands on guards Jeremy Roach and Tyrese Proctor.
Uros Plavsic picked up two offensive fouls in the first four minutes, both against Filipowski. Duke’s 7-footer later elbowed him in the face and left a small cut under his left eye.
Proctor struggled several times to get the ball in, getting a five-second call, turning it over once and almost giving it up again. Roach had even more problems, picking up his fourth foul with 15 minutes to go and committing five turnovers.
“Every game we prepare for a dogfight,” Nkamhoua said. “When we play people on our game, it ensures that we’re going to be in our element.”
It helped the Vols take care of the ball much better than they did in their first-round win over Louisiana-Lafayette. They turned it over just nine times, half as many as Thursday and last month since point guard Zakai Zeigler suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Proctor had 16 points and six assists to lead Duke. Roach and Filipowski each scored 13 points. Dereck Lively II missed but had 11 rebounds and two blocks.
“I thought we ran out of gas in between,” Scheyer said.
THE BIG PICTURE
Duke: The Blue Devils played without 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward Mark Mitchell, who was a late scratch with a knee injury. It’s unlikely Mitchell would have made a difference, but he certainly would have helped down low against the Vols.
Tennessee: The Vols stumbled into the tournament with six of 10 losses, but now they’re riding a winning streak and have clearly reestablished themselves as a big, physical, deep, defensive team capable of beating anyone.
Duke: The Blue Devils are focused on what’s going on with their talented team and the NBA. All eyes will be on freshmen Dereck Lively II, Filipowski and Proctor and their pending decisions.