Tennessee in Sweet 16 after bringing Duke “in the mud”

Michael DiRoccoESPN Writer3 minute read

ORLANDO, Fla. — Tennessee heads to the Sweet 16 because he likes to play in “the mud.”

It’s the Vols’ term for the tough, physical and sometimes ugly style of basketball they play. They don’t apologize or apologize for it. It’s who they are.

“That’s what we do,” said striker Olivier Nkamhoua. “We are a tough and uncompromising team. That’s how we play everyone.”

Duke coach Jon Scheyer spoke about it Friday before Saturday’s NCAA Tournament second round game at the Amway Center. But knowing it was coming didn’t make things any easier, and the Vols beat the Blue Devils all the way to a 65-52 victory.

“Knowing they had a lot of freshmen, we knew if we came in and applied more pressure and were tough and physical, then they would have to deal with it,” Nkamhoua said. “What we were saying before the game was that we were going to take them through the mud with us and play them a tough, tough game and see if they were ready for it.”

They weren’t.

The box score doesn’t accurately describe how physical things were. Duke forward Kyle Filipowski had to leave the game moments in the first half after taking an elbow to the face of Tennessee forward Jonas Aidoo which left a mark on his left cheek which was still visible after the game .

Tennessee held Duke to just 21 first-half points, the fewest first-half points the Blue Devils have scored in an NCAA tournament game, and its defense held the Blue Devils scoreless for a period at the end of the first half and in the second. which lasted 6 minutes, 58 seconds.

“They did a great job making passing difficult,” Scheyer said. “They challenged, they changed a lot. It was difficult to direct our attack. … You really have to work for everything in a game like this. You have to work to open up. You have to work on your drives, and that’s what it’s really about.

“…I thought we ran out of gas on the stretch.”

Tennessee’s game plan was to exploit their opponent’s age and size. The Vols start four seniors, while Duke starts four freshmen (Mark Mitchell, another freshman, did not play due to a knee injury). Freshmen Duke Filipowski and Dereck Lively II are 7ft tall but both weigh 230lbs and got a bit of a push from Tennessee seniors Uros Plavsic (7-1, 265) and Aidoo (6-11, 241).

By the end of the game, the fatigue the Duke players were feeling from all the hitting and the extra work to open up was easy to see. The Blue Devils managed just four runs in the 6:04 game finale. The 52 points were a season low and the fewest the program had scored in an NCAA tournament loss.

“You want people to play at your pace,” said Nkamhoua, who tied his career high with 27 points, including 23 in the second half. “It just guarantees that we’re going to be in our element.

“So when we corner guys and start making players do things they’re not used to doing, we wear them down and we keep wearing them down. I feel like having said it earlier in the year where I said people have to be ready for us where it’s not just going to be one hit it’s gonna be continuous hits and then the way you follow us is if you You can just keep taking those hits and keep playing this tough game for 40 minutes and we’re going to put them down in the mud for 40 minutes. It’s tough, and some guys can hold on and some guys can’t.”

Duke clearly couldn’t on Saturday.

“Purdue aside, I’d probably say Tennessee was the next, if not the greatest physical team we’ve played all year,” Filipowski said. “It’s not a success for any of the teams we’ve faced. It just showed how physical Tennessee was today.”

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