Duke's dynamic defensive play

With about 80 seconds left in regulation Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena, 6-foot-9 Texas superstar Kevin Durant drove for a bucket that would boost the Longhorn lead to 89-82 and probably seal Tennessee's doom.

As Durant went up, however, 6-7 Vol freshman Duke Crews went up, too, deftly swatting the ball away from the basket. That brilliant defensive play probably saved the day, enabling Tennessee to rally for a 111-105 overtime victory.

Crews grinned broadly when asked about his rousing rejection after the game.

"We used to guard each other a little bit in AAU, so it was kind of like old times out there," he said. "It was fun. At the end of it, he told me 'Good play.'"

Crews has been making a lot of good plays lately. He contributed a career-high 17 points and 9 rebounds vs. Oklahoma State last Monday, then came back five days later to produce 16 points and 8 rebounds vs. Texas. Over the past two games he has hit 16 of 24 field-goal tries, scored 33 points and grabbed 17 rebounds (9 of them offensive). He also recorded 4 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot during the two-game span.

Crews has become a starter in his first college season because of what head coach Bruce Pearl calls "the way his engine runs and his physicality."

Crews also has become a crowd favorite due to those same attributes. Fans routinely salute him with extended "Duuuuuuuuke" chants. These bring a big smile to his face.

"I love it," he said of the fans' support. "Besides my teammates, I'm out there doing it all for them."

Crews did a lot for the fans Saturday but most of it occurred in the second half. He played poorly in the first 20 minutes, going 0-for-4 from the field, with 0 points, 2 rebounds and 2 turnovers. Embarrassed, he sought out his head coach during halftime.

"Duke said, 'Coach, I got your back,'" Pearl recalled. "That's his way of saying he knows what I expect. He got himself going (in the second half). That's what you've got to do: Forget about whatever plays or shots you missed earlier. Put 'em behind you and move on."

Crews was a different player after the break – hitting 8 of 9 shots, spearing 6 rebounds and making that game-saving defensive play on Durant's drive.

"I didn't play with as much energy as I was supposed to in the first half, and that kind of hurt our team," Crews said. "I normally bring a lot of energy onto the court but I didn't do that in the first half. I tried to do that in the second half, and it worked."

Crews' energy, coupled with improved shooting by all of the Vols, enabled Tennessee to overcome a 50-35 halftime deficit and post one of the most exciting victories in program history.

"There wasn't a statement made in the locker room but I put it upon myself personally to come out and give our team some energy," Crews said. "I did it. I got a couple of quick baskets and we were able to be successful."


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