Nkamhoua’s career day takes down Duke, leads Vols to Sweet Sixteen

Published 7:25 pm Monday, March 20, 2023

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A career-high-tying 27 points from Olivier Nkamhoua and a suffocating defensive performance led fourth-seeded Tennessee Saturday, as the Vols clinched the ninth Sweet Sixteen appearance in program history with a 65-52 win over No. 5 seed Duke.

With the win, Tennessee (25-10) advances to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2019. The Vols will face either Florida Atlantic or Fairleigh Dickinson on Thursday in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Tipoff time has yet to be announced.

Nkamhoua’s 27 points—23 of which came in the second half—tied his career-high set on Jan. 28 against Texas and came on 10-of-13 shooting from the field, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range. From the 8:43 mark to the 4:16 mark of the second half, Nkamhoua scored 13 straight points for the Vols. In total, he scored 17 of Tennessee’s final 19 points.

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All-SEC guard Santiago Vescovi was Tennessee’s second-most productive scorer, pouring in 14 points with four made 3-pointers and also racking up five assists and five rebounds.

Durham, North Carolina, native Jonas Aidoo also made an impact with an all-around performance for the Vols—notching eight points, five rebounds and three blocks.

Tennessee’s smothering defensive performance was evident on the scoreboard, as Duke’s 52 points were not only a season-low for the Blue Devils, but tied for the fewest in an NCAA Tournament game in the program’s storied history. The Vols forced Duke to commit 15 turnovers.

After holding a six-point lead at halftime, Tennessee extended its lead to nine points early in the second half thanks to a pair of 3-pointers from Josiah-Jordan James and Nkamhoua, but Duke was quick to battle back—cutting the Vols’ lead down to just two points with 15:40 to go after a quick 7-0 run.

For the first of several times in the second half, the Vols responded with a quick spurt of their own to maintain distance from the Blue Devils—outscoring Duke 11-4 over the next four minutes of game time to pull back in front by nine with 11:54 remaining, 44-35.

Immediately following Tennessee’s run, Duke responded with a run of its own—cutting Tennessee’s lead back down to just four with 9:10 to go, 46-42.

Then entered Nkamhoua, who during a 13-6 Tennessee run scored all 13 of the Vols’ points to put Tennessee in control for good—up 11 with 4:16 to go.

With the win all but secured and just over a minute to play, Nkamhoua put the exclamation point on his performance and Tennessee’s win with a putback slam with 1:15 to go.

Tennessee’s defensive intensity also set the tone for the entirety of the first half, as the Vols took a 27-21 lead into the halftime break. Duke’s 21 first-half points were tied for its fewest in any half this season.

Following a tightly-contested opening seven minutes, Duke created some separation with a 9-0 run to pull in front by six at 19-13 with 8:05 to go in the first half.

Tennessee, however, responded to its largest deficit of the half by closing the opening period on a 14-2 run over the final 7:49. Of the Vols’ 14 points during the spurt, 11 came from the duo of Vescovi and Aidoo, who each had a team-high eight points in the first half.

UP NEXT: Tennessee advances to the Sweet Sixteen and will face either Florida Atlantic or Fairleigh Dickinson on Thursday in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Tipoff time has yet to be announced.

SWEET SIXTEEN VOLS: Saturday’s win gave Tennessee its ninth Sweet Sixteen appearance in program history and first since 2019. The Vols have previously competed in the Round of 16 in 1967, 1981, 2000, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2014 and 2019.

TENNESSEE CLASSIC UNIFORMS STAY UNBEATEN: For the sixth time this season, the Vols sported their “Tennessee Classic” uniforms and improved to 6-0 while doing so.

The Big Orange also wore the Tennessee Classic uniforms in wins over No. 10 Texas, No. 1 Alabama, Arkansas, in the SEC Tournament against Ole Miss and in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Louisiana.