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ORLANDO, Florida. – A career-high 27 points from Olivier Nkamhoua and a stifling defensive performance led Tennessee’s fourth seed on Saturday as the Vols earned Sweet Sixteen’s ninth appearance in program history with a 65 win -52 over the No. 5 Duke seed.
With the victory, Tennessee (25-10) advances to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2019. The Vols will face either Florida Atlantic or Fairleigh Dickinson on Thursday at Madison Square Garden in New York. Tipping time has not yet been announced.
Nkamhoua’s 27 points, including 23 in the second half, tied his career high on Jan. 28 against Texas and came on 10 of 13 shots from the field, including 3 of 4 from 3-pointers. 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 has scored 17 of Tennessee’s last 19 points.
Santiago Vescovi was Tennessee’s second most productive scorer, scoring 14 points on four 3-pointers and also racking up five assists and five rebounds.
Jonas Aidoo also made an impact with an overall performance of eight points, five rebounds and three blocks.
Tennessee’s stifling 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 least in an NCAA Tournament game. the program’s rich history. The Vols forced Duke to commit 15 turnovers.
After holding a six-point halftime lead, Tennessee extended their lead to nine points early in the second half thanks to a pair of 3-pointers from Josiah-Jordan James and Nkamhoua, but Duke didn’t was quick to fight to reduce the Thefts. ‘ leads 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 push of their own to keep the distance with Duke, winner of the Blue Devils, 11-4 in the next four minutes of game time to move back in front by nine with 11:54 remaining, 44-35.
Immediately after Tennessee’s run, Duke responded with a run of their own Tennessee lead to just four with 9:10 left, 46-42.
Then came Nkamhoua, who in a 13-6 run at Tennessee scored all 13 points for the Vols to put Tennessee in the lead for a solid 11 with 4:16 to go.
With victory all but assured with just over a minute to play, Nkamhoua put the exclamation point on his performance and Tennessee’s victory with a comeback snap with 1:15 to go.
Tennessee’s defensive intensity also set the tone for the entire first half, as the Vols took a 27-21 halftime lead. Duke’s 21 points in the first half were tied for their fewest halves this season.
After a hotly contested seven-minute opener, Duke created some separation with a 9-0 run to move ahead by six at 19-13 with 8:05 left in the first half.
Tennessee responded to their biggest halftime deficit, however, by closing the opening period on a 14-2 run in the final 7:49. Of the Vols’ 14 points during the push, 11 came from the duo of Vescovi and Aidoo, who each had a team-high eight points in the first half.
Tennessee advances to the Sweet Sixteen and will face either Florida Atlantic or Fairleigh Dickinson on Thursday at Madison Square Garden in New York. Tipping time has not yet been announced.
SWEET SIXTEEN FLIGHTS:
Saturday’s victory gave Tennessee its ninth Sweet Sixteen appearance in program history and first since 2019. The Vols have previously appeared in the Round of 16 in 1967, 1981, 2000, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2014 and 2019 .
THE TENNESSEE CLASSIC UNIFORMS REMAIN UNEXPECTED:
For the sixth time this season, the Vols sported their “Tennessee Classic” uniforms and improved to 6-0 in the process. The Big Orange also wore Tennessee Classic uniforms in victories 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.