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Tennessee advances to their second Elite Eight in school history in 82-75 win over Creighton

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Tennessee entered its Sweet 16 matchup with all kinds of history aligned against them. The Vols had just made one Elite Eight in school history and everyone in college basketball knows that Rick Barnes’ best coaching seems to exclusively take place in games held before March.

Forget all that. The Vols matched their best season in men’s college basketball history on Friday when Tennessee advanced to the Elite Eight for just the second time with a 82-75 win over Creighton. It certainly wasn’t easy.

Tennessee faced a Creighton team without guard Santiago Vescovi, who has struggled this season and was said to be held out of the game due to illness. As for Creighton, the Bluejays didn’t try to surprise the Vols with anything unusual defensively other than a brief box-and-one in an attempt to control Dalton Knecht.

Creighton likes to pressure teams into mid-range jumpers by limiting three-point attempts and negating much of an opposing attack on the basket with a 7-foot-1, 270-pound center, Ryan Kalkbrenner, awaiting underneath the basket for those brave enough to venture into the paint. However, the Vols weren’t completely compliant when it came to playing into the Bluejays’ hands.

Led by the Player of the Year in the SEC, swingman Dalton Knecht, the Vols attacked with mid-range jumpers but also relied on some clutch threes to keep momentum on Tennessee’s side. Knecht finished the game with 24 points on 8 of 21 shooting. 

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The Vols shot 41.8 percent from the field and 45.8 percent from the three-point arc. An 18-0 run midway through the second half gave the Vols a strong grip on the game but that would be tested by a strong Creighton offense. Despite Creighton’s highly respected perimeter defense, the Vols got good looks repeatedly on the outside thanks to their high-level ball movement during their run. A whopping 10 points came in the paint during that devastating run that Creighton never could recover from.

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes is blamed at times for not being as offensively minded, that his defense is his calling card. Well, that turned out to be just fine against Creighton as the Vols gave up just 75 points overall and 35 in the first half. Creighton only managed shooting 44.8 percent from the field on Friday evening against the Vols.

The Vols will now face another highly rated team when the Vols take on No. 1-seeded Purdue, led by Boilermaker center Zach Edey. The National Player of the Year scored 27 points and reeled in 14 rebounds in a 80-68 win against No. 5-seeded Gonzaga on Friday. Eddy, the 7-foot-4, throwback center, was named the college basketball player of the year last season and is thought to be a lock to do the same when this season comes to an end. The Vols should have a good feel for Purdue. Tennessee lost to the Boilermakers 71-67 in November.

Tennessee should have an advantage over Purdue when it comes to athleticism. However, Purdue has an advantage over every team in college basketball. The Boilermakers have Edey, the best player in the NCAA. The two teams will reconvene on Sunday with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

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