March Madness: Olivier Nkamhoua leads Tennessee past Duke into Sweet 16

March Madness: Olivier Nkamhoua leads Tennessee past Duke into Sweet 16

A packed section of Tennessee fans inside Amway Center erupted into cheers when Olivier Nkamhoua nailed a 3-pointer with 4:16 left in the game Saturday to give the No. 4 Volunteers their largest lead (11) until that point over No. 5 Duke in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Nkamhoua, who scored a game-high 27 points, emphatically dunked the ball a few minutes later to punch the Volunteers past the Blue Devils, 65-52, and into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2019.

“Olivier played great basketball today,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “Just a total team effort and [I’m] just really proud of our guys for what we’ve gone through the last month.

“No team deserves more than what’s happened than what these guys have gone out and earned this week.”

Duke trailed 51-44 at the 7:24 mark of the second half and never got closer than 5 points the rest of the way. Jon Scheyer’s squad didn’t score in the final 2:14 of the game.

Facing a Duke team that featured four freshmen in its starting 5, Tennessee — which started four seniors — relied on its experience and physicality to gain an edge.

The Vols forced 15 Duke turnovers and scored 18 points off the takeaways. Additionally, Tennessee grabbed 12 offensive boards to score 12 second-chance points compared to Duke’s 5.

“That’s what we do. We’re a tough, hard-nosed team,” Nkamhoua said. “That’s how we play everybody but knowing that they had a lot of freshmen, we knew that if we came in and applied more pressure, be tough and physical — they would have to deal with it.”

Three Duke players — Tyrese Proctor (16 points), Jeremy Roach (13) and Kyle Filipowski (13) — finished in double-digit scoring but the 43% showing from the field wasn’t efficient enough to generate a late comeback.

The Blue Devils only made 2 of their final 11 shots in the game.

“Credit them, they did a great job with making passes difficult,” Scheyer said. “They contest and switched a lot. It was hard to run our offense.”

Beyond Nkamhoua’s 27, Santiago Vescovi was the only Volunteer to score more than 10 points. The senior guard had 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc. Jonas Aidoo notched 8 points while Josiah-Jordan James added 7.

Filipowski was hit hard in the face early in the game. After medical trainers took a quick look and cleaned up his face, he checked back in but not before Tennessee went on a 6-0 run in the two minutes he was on the bench.

The Blue Devils failed to score for nearly 4 minutes after the hit until Roach tied the game at 13 with a corner 3 at the 11:23 mark of the first half.

After not much little separation between the two sides in the first 10 minutes of the game, the Volunteers went to halftime with momentum by way of defense.

Forcing 5 Duke turnovers in the final 8 minutes of the first half, Tennessee used a 14-2 run to lead 27-21 at the break. The Blue Devils failed to score for nearly 5 minutes before halftime.

That trend continued in the second half as Duke shot 18% from 3-point range in the final 20 points.

“They played an outstanding game,” Scheyer said about Tennessee. “They’re tough. They’ve been through it before and made some big-time plays.”

Heading to New York’s Madison Square Garden for the Sweet 16, the Vols will face the winner of No. 9 FAU, which beat No. 8 Memphis, and No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson, which upset No. 1 Purdue on Friday.

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