"This bodes well for him in the future," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game show.
Crews was scoreless 12 minutes into the game but broke loose moments after the Cowboys took a 23-21 lead. Fouled on a drive to the bucket, he hit the first free throw with 7:20 to go in the half. He missed the second foul shot but UT rebounded and he eventually tipped in a missed shot for a backdoor three-point play. Crews made a driving layup moments later, single-handedly outscoring OSU 5-0 during a 50-second spurt that saw Tennessee turn the two-point deficit into a three-point lead.
When the Cowboys moved ahead by five (37-32) just before intermission, Crews hit a five-foot half-hook from in front to temporarily stem their momentum.
The second half was Crews' best of the season. He produced three of Tennessee's first five baskets, then took a breather. When he returned, he immediately scored on a rim-rattling follow dunk. He added another emphatic slam moments later, pulling the Vols within a point at 65-64 with 8:17 to play.
Crews picked up his fourth foul two minutes later and went to the bench. Still, his aggressive play seemed to inspire fellow freshman Wayne Chism, who scored on a tip-in and and a layup as Tennessee rallied to win in the closing minutes.
"I think Duke actually gave Wayne a little bit of courage to go out there and compete," Pearl noted.
Despite going head-to-head with one of the better big men in college basketball, 6-7, 247-pound Mario Boggan, the 6-7, 233-pound Crews more than held his own. He was 8 of 11 from the floor. He came within three of matching Boggan's 20-point production. He outrebounded the OSU star 9 to 6 and helped force 4 Boggan turnovers, while committing just one himself.
"We're not surprised," Pearl said. "This is what we expect of Duke and what we know he can do. He competed and he played bigger than his size. This has got to get him excited."
It has got to get Tennessee fans excited, too. The Duke Crews they've been hearing about since pre-season drills began finally showed up.