On Saturday afternoon, the Duke Blue Devils and Tennessee Volunteers clashed for the right to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. After a closely contested affair, all the way through, Tennessee would pull away late, beating the Blue Devils 65-52. Duke entered the game as the hottest team in college basketball, as they had won their last ten games. The Blue Devils cruised past Oral Roberts in their Round of 64 matchups, beating the Golden Eagles 74-51.
Photo Cred: The Spun
Tennessee’s path to this game was slightly less perfect, as they were 5-5 in their previous ten games and just snuck past No. 13 Louisiana-Lafayette 58-55. Shortly before tip-off, Duke starting forward Mark Mitchell was scratched from the lineup with a knee injury. Dariq Whitehead started in his place.
This was a concerning development for Duke from the start, as they went 19-1 with their full squad this season but a mediocre 8-7 when dealing with injuries to their rotation. The game got off to a defensive start with no scoring in the first minute. Tennessee’s Olivier Nkamhoua got the scoring going with a layup, but the Blue Devils quickly responded with two threes from Jeremy Roach and Dariq Whitehead.
Photo Cred: Knoxville Sentinel
Less than three minutes into the game, Volunteer center Uroš Plavšić picked up his second foul, setting up the seven-footer to play a more careful brand of basketball than he was used to. Coming out of a Tennessee timeout, Santiago Vescovi hit a three to cut the Duke lead to 6-5. The teams would trade buckets in the minutes to follow.
With Duke leading 10-9, Jonas Aidoo and Kyle Filipowski went up to get a rebound. Filipowski was hit in the face, leaving a deep cut under his eye. With the already unexpected loss of Mitchell, the Blue Devils could not afford to lose another key player. Filipowski would sit as the medical staff attended to him. Momentum shifted in Tennessee’s favor, especially after a commanding jam from Julian Phillips.
Photo Cred: Vols Wire
Duke would go over four minutes without scoring. However, Filipowski quickly returned to the floor after Duke coach Jon Scheyer’s first timeout of the game. Roach would snap the scoreless streak with a smooth shot from downtown. The Blue Devils then went on a 9-0 run, including another three from Whitehead. Vescovi stopped the bleeding for the Vols with a three of his own.
After another long scoreless sequence, highlighted by a Vescovi steal and a Dereck Lively II block, Tyrese Proctor and Aidoo traded buckets to make the score 21-20 in favor of Duke headed into the final media timeout of the half. Immediately after the timeout, Aidoo delivered a commanding slam to give the Volunteers a one-point advantage. Tyreke Key hit a three to give Tennessee the largest lead of the day as time in the first half wanned.
Photo Cred: The Tennessean
Scheyer made the decision to leave Roach in with two fouls, running the risk that he would pick up a third before the half. This came to fruition for the Blue Devils, as Roach picked up his third foul in a nightmarish closing few minutes for Duke. The Volunteers finished the half on a 14-2 run and took a 27-21 lead to the locker room.
“I thought our defense was really, really good,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes.
Both teams shot poorly from the field in the first half, with Duke and Tennessee shooting 36.4% and 33.3%, respectively. Whitehead and Vescovi were the leading scorers at the break, with 8 points each. Duke’s 21 points were the fewest they have ever scored in the first half of an NCAA Tournament game. The Blue Devils also lost the turnover battle turning the ball over five more times than the Volunteers.
Photo Cred: The Spun
Tennessee got back to work to start the second half, as Josiah-Jordan James nailed a three to make the score 30-21. Roach would get Duke back on the scoreboard, putting up five quick points and cutting the Tennessee lead to 7. Shortly after, Roach rolled his ankle but would stay in the game.
After playing disciplined for much of the first half, Plavšić would commit his third foul on a Proctor three-point attempt. This was a game of runs, as Duke would rip off a 7-0 stretch of their own, bringing the game to within two. Whitehead had an incredible block, continuing a big game for the freshman. With 15:01 to go in the game, Roach committed his fourth foul and returned to the bench.
After a James jumper, Tennessee had built the lead back to 7. Duke was undoubtedly feeling the lack of Roach on the floor. After Vescovi canned another from downtown, Scheyer quickly took a timeout. Scheyer decided to bring Roach back in, as the Blue Devils were desperate for his contributions. After a missed Nkamhoua jumper, Phillips came flying in, slamming it down and giving the Volunteers an 11-point lead.
Photo Cred: AOL
A quick three from Proctor and a spinning layup from Filipowski would cut the lead to just 4. With 8:51 remaining, Roach seemingly committed his fifth foul of the game, which would have resulted in Duke losing him for the rest of the game. However, the referees switched the foul culprit to Proctor, keeping Roach in the contest. Plavšić picked up his fourth with 7:24 remaining.
“They didn’t let me play in the first, so I had to get all my action in during the second,” Nkamhoua said.
Proctor began to catch fire as the second half rolled on. After scoring just 2 in the first half, he would finish with 16. Nkamhoua got hotter, scoring 13 straight Tennessee points, including a three to put the Volunteers up 59-48 with just four minutes remaining in the game. He would finish with 27 on 10/12 shooting. This lead would prove too much for the Blue Devils to overcome, and Tennessee would advance to the Sweet Sixteen. They will await the winner of Fairleigh Dickinson vs. FAU.