Duke basketball can’t match Tennessee’s physicality; Blue Devils out of NCAA Tournament

Down a starting player with with another in foul trouble, Duke switched defenses regularly in the second half, but its failure to stop Tennessee’s Olivier Nkamhoua halted the Blue Devils season.

Nkamhoua scored 27 points, including 13 straight Volunteers points during a key stretch of the second half, as No. 4 Tennessee eliminated No. 5 Duke, 65-52, in an NCAA Tournament East Region second-round game at Amway Center.

The Vols (25-10) advance to play either No. 16 Fairleigh-Dickinson or No. 9 Florida Atlantic on Thursday in the regional semifinals at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Saturday’s loss ended Duke’s 10-game winning streak, and also brought coach Jon Scheyer’s first season at the helm following Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski’s retirement to an abrupt halt.

The Blue Devils were without Mark Mitchell, their 6-8 freshman forward, who missed the game after tweaking a knee in practice on Friday. Mitchell was originally in the starting lineup but, after pregame warmups, was replaced by Dariq Whitehead.

Tennessee led the entire second half after taking a 27-21 halftime advantage. Duke drew as close as two points early in the second half. Even though Duke junior guard Jeremy Roach having picked up his fourth foul with 15:01 to play, the Blue Devils sliced the Tennessee lead to 46-42 when Kyle Filipowski scored in the lane with 9:10 left.

But Nkamhoua scored Tennessee’s next 13 points, some while Duke played zone defense to protect Roach from getting his fourth foul, and some against Duke’s man-to-man sets.

His 3-pointer with 4:16 left gave the Vols a 59-48 lead. That was the second 3-pointer during that stretch for the 6-9 forward who matched his career high in scoring. Santiago Vescovi added 14 for Tennessee.

Duke shot 43.8% and committed 15 turnovers in the loss. Tyrese Proctor led Duke with 16 points while Roach and Filipowski scored 13 each.

After scoring the last nine points of the first half, Tennessee pushed its run to 12-0 when James hit a 3-pointer to start the half and give the Vols a 30-21 lead.

With the Vols up 33-24 Roach and Proctor put together a 7-0 run to draw Duke closer. Roach drove for a layup and Proctor hit three free throws after being fouled by Tennessee big man Uros Plavsic, his third foul. When Proctor hit a driving bank shot with 15:40 to play, Duke trailed 33-31.

But Nkamhoua scored inside with 15:01 to play while drawing a foul from Roach, his fourth.

With Roach on the bench, the Vols extended their lead to 41-33 when Vescovi drilled a 3-pointer with 12:30 to play.

With Duke in a zone defense to protect Roach and the Vols up 46-37, Duke made a move with Proctor hitting a 3-pointer and Filipowski scoring after a spin move in the lane leaving Tennessee up 46-42.

But Nkamhoua hit a jumper in the lane and followed with a 3-pointer with 8:06 to play restoring Tennessee’s nine-point lead at 51-42.

First half recap

Tennessee willed its way to a 27-21 halftime lead by holding the Blue Devils scoreless over the final 4:50 of the first half.

Duke shot just 36.4% (8 of 22) and missed its final four 3-point shot attempts of the half while turning the ball over 11 times in the first 20 minutes.

The Blue Devils used a 9-0 run over a little more than three minutes to take a 19-13 lead when Filipowski scored in the lane with 8:04 left in the half.

But the Vols, after going scoreless for 5:11, scored the game’s next five points when Vescovi hit a 3-pointer and then two free throws. Proctor’s fade-away jumper in the lane at 4:51 gave Duke a 21-18 lead.

Tennessee scored the final nine points of the half, starting with an Aidoo jumper followed by his slam dunk on an offensive rebound.

Tyreke Key’s 3-pointer with 1:21 to play gave Tennessee a 25-21 lead. Roach was called for his third foul, a push-off while on offense, with 1:02 left.

On a possession where they got three shots, Aidoo scored in the lane with three seconds left in the half giving Tennessee its largest lead of the half at 27-21.