Photo via Tennessee Athletics
ORLANDO, Fla. — Olivier Nkamhoua threw down a massive one-handed put back slam to bury the Duke Blue Devils and released a roar that was heard all the way back in Knoxville.
Nkamhoua played his best game in his Tennessee career in the biggest moment as the Vols knocked off Duke 65-52 to advance to the Sweet 16.
Three quick takeaways on a massive Tennessee victory.
A Tale Of Two Halves In Play Style
15 minutes into the first half, Santiago Vescovi was the only offensive threat for Tennessee and the Vols had just 18 points. They were down by one point.
Duke star Kyle Filiposki had bandages under his eye to patch up a cut, the Blue Devils were turning it over at a high rate and Tennessee was dictating the terms of the game.
The Vols made it a physical, half court dog fight where open looks were hard to find and easy baskets were nearly instinct.
From there, Tennessee got some shots to go and ended the half on a 9-0 run and an extended 14-2 run to take a six-point lead into the locker room.
The game took a much different theme in the second half as offense prevailed and it was a half of big shots. Both Duke and Tennessee struggled to get stops as the Blue Devils dribble drive penetration gave the Vols issues.
Tennessee’s offensive success was largely about hitting shots which they did at a high level. The Vols hit xx three-pointers in the second half including some massive ones from Olivier Nkamhoua. The senior power forward was brilliant in the second half. More on him in a moment.
Santiago Vescovi And Olivier Nkamhoua Lead The Way Offensively
Tennessee star Santiago Vescovi made just one shot and scored only three points in the Vols’ NCAA Tournament opener against Louisiana. It was Vescovi’s first poor offensive performance since Zakai Zeigler went down with a knee injury and something Tennessee couldn’t afford against Duke.
Vescovi hit his first triple 2:40 into the game and was off and going. The First Team All-SEC selection was Tennessee’s only consistent offensive creator and threat and did a strong job of creating for both himself and his teammates by the way he forced Duke’s defense to rotate.
The Montevideo, Uruguay native was fantastic against Duke, scoring 14 points on four made threes while dishing out five assists and grabbing five rebounds.
Vescovi needed some help and Olivier Nkamhoua was the man to deliver. Nkamhoua played just six minutes in the first half while battling foul trouble but hit two of his first three shots to get in a rhythm.
Nkamhoua’s breakout came in the second half and it started early. Duke played fantastic defense to open the second half but Nkamhoua hit a pair of huge shots— first a contested corner three and then an and-one to maintain Tennessee’s lead.
It was just the start of an insane second half for Olivier Nkamhoua as he scored 23 points on an extremely efficient eight-of-10 shooting when. When Duke went zone, Nkamhoua was the man that beat the zone by scoring in the middle.
The senior power forward’s three second half threes were just as crucial and helped Tennessee stretch out its lead. Olivier Nkamhoua is Tennessee’s most inconsistent offensive player. He delivered when Tennessee needed him the most.
Turnovers A Major Difference
The storyline coming into the matchup was the battle on the glass between two of the nation’s best offensive rebounding team. That battle proved to be pretty even as Tennessee earned an 35-30 advantage overall and an 12-6 advantage on the offensive end.
The difference in the game was the turnovers and if I heard that before the game it wouldn’t have been a good thing for Tennessee.
Tennessee has struggled mightily with turnovers since Zakai Zeigler’s season ending injury.
But it was the Blue Devils that crumbled under Tennessee’s ball pressure coughing it up 15 times. The Vols did a fantastic job of turning Duke’s turnovers into points totaling 18 off of them.
On the other end, Tennessee turned it over just nine times. The most important part. Most were dead ball turnovers and allowed the Vols to set their defense. Duke scored just seven points on turnovers.
Tennessee advances to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2019. The Vols will face the winner of FAU and Farleigh Dickinson Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The tip-off time and broadcast details have not been finalized.