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ORLANDO, FL — ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Olivier Nkamhua was a little hesitant to enter the Tennessee locker room after the game after a career-high performance against powerhouse Duke in the NCAA Tournament. So, Uras Plavšić picked it up and handed it to his teammates who were waiting to douse him with water.
It was a fitting retribution considering Nkamhua had been volunteering most of the day.
Nkamhua tied his career-high with 27 points, including 13 straight for Tennessee in a decisive second-half stretch, and the fourth-seeded Volunteers beat Duke 65-52 on Saturday for their first time since 2019 Sweet 16.
“We’re a tough, tough team,” Nkamhua said. “That’s how we play everybody. But knowing that they have a lot of freshmen, we knew if we came in and applied more pressure and were tough and physical, they were going to have to deal with it.
“What we said before the game was that we were going to put them in the mud with us and make them play a tough, tough game and see if they were ready for it.”
They weren’t, and Tennessee’s experience — the Vols start four seniors — proved too much for Duke’s highly touted freshmen.
Santiago Vescavi added 14 points and five assists for Tennessee (25-10), which ended Duke’s 10-game winning streak and sent first-year coach John Scheier, charged with replacing Mike Krzyzewski, home after just two games in the NCAA tournament. Not sure if Coach K could have done anything differently to deal with these Vols, who used a bully level to dispatch the fifth seed Blue Devils (27-9).
“We think it’s in our power if we can do it,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.
Nkamhua made 10 of 13 shots and put the exclamation point on Tennessee’s victory with a buzzer-beating shot with 1:15 left. That prompted Vols fans to chant and Duke fans to rush to the exits.
“You really have to work on everything in a game like this,” said Scheier, whose team turned the ball over 15 times and went just 6-of-22 from 3-point range. “You have to work to open up.”
Tennessee took on 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 day. The Volunteers set the tone early, clearly looking to get around Kyle Filipowski and punish guards Jeremy Roach and Tyrese Proctor.
Vols big man Uras Plavsic picked up two offensive fouls in the first four minutes, both against Filipowski. Later, the 7-foot Duke elbowed him in the face and left him with a small cut under his left eye.
Proctor tried to field the ball several times, getting a five-second call, turning it over once and nearly giving it away again. Roach had even more trouble, picking up his fourth foul with 15 minutes left to finish with five turnovers.
“We prepare for a dogfight every game,” Nkamhua said. “If we make people play our game, it’s just a guarantee that we’ll be in our element.”
It helped that the Vols took care of the ball much better than they did in their first-round win against Louisiana-Lafayette. They turned it over just nine times, half as many as Thursday and their fewest since quarterback Zakai Zeigler suffered a season-ending knee injury last month.
Proctor led Duke with 16 points and six assists. Roach and Filipowski scored 13 points each. Derek Lively II did not score, but had 11 rebounds and two blocks.
“I thought we were out of gas,” Schaer 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 that Mitchell would have been a difference maker, but he certainly would have helped down the stretch against the Vols.
Tennessee: The Vols entered the tournament losing six of 10, but are now riding a winning streak and have clearly reestablished their identity as a big, physical, deep, defensive team capable of beating anyone.
Duke: The Blue Devils are paying attention to what’s going on with their talent-laden team and the NBA. All eyes will be on freshmen Derek Lively II, Filipowski and Proctor and their pending decisions.
AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top -25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
Tennessee beats Duke, 65-52 win to advance to Sweet 16 :: WRALSportsFan.com
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