March Madness: Tennessee rides 18-0 run, late stand past Creighton into Elite 8 showdown vs. Purdue

Zakai Zeigler and Tennessee are headed to the Elite Eight. (Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)
Zakai Zeigler and Tennessee are headed to the Elite Eight. (Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

Tennessee blew a close game open only to find itself in a battle in the final moments of its Sweet 16 matchup with Creighton on Friday.

But the Vols held on late to secure an 82-75 win to advance to the Elite Eight.

The Bluejays and Vols were locked in a back-and-forth contest that Creighton led, 35-34 at halftime. Then Tennessee's defense and 3-point shooting took over. The Vols reeled off an 18-0 run to turn a 39-37 deficit into a 55-39 lead early in the second half.

Tennessee looked very much in control after its second-half outburst. Creighton missed six-straight shots during the run and turned the ball over twice after not turning it over for the final 15:05 of the first half. The BlueJays has no answer for an aggressive Vols defense that ranks third in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency.

Then a defensive shift of their own got the Bluejays back in the game. Creighton switched to a zone defense that befuddled the Tennessee offense as the Bluejays cut their deficit to three points. A Steven Ashworth 3-pointer cut Tennessee's once 16-point lead to 65-62 with 4:44 remaining. But that was as close as Creighton would get.

Tennessee closed the game on a 17-13 run to secure the win and set the second-seed Vols up with a showdown against No. 1 seed Purdue in the Midwest regional final. The matchup will pit an elite Purdue offense that ranks third in adjusted offensive efficiency against Tennessee's vaunted defense.

All-America candidate Dalton Knecht powered the Tennessee offense. He tallied 24 points, five rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block without committing a turnover. Point guard Zakai Zeigler tallied 18 points, six assists and four rebounds while committing just one turnover. Josiah-Jordan James added 17 points while hitting 3 of 5 3-point attempts. He didn't turn the ball over.

The dearth of turnovers was a theme for the Vols. They committed just four on the night. Their ball security combined with an 11-of-24 (45.8%) effort from 3-point distance proved too much for Creighton to overcome.

Creighton countered with a strong night from long distance while shooting 11 of 23 (47.8%) from beyond the arc. Baylor Scheierman led the game with 25 points alongside six rebounds while shooting 4 of 9 from long distance. Ashworth added 16 points, while Ryan Kalkbrenner tallied 14 points and seven rebounds. All Big-East forward Trey Alexander tallied 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists. But he struggled from the field on a 3-of-12 night.

Ultimately, Tennessee's ball security earned it nine more shots from the floor (67-58) and proved to be the difference in the game. Creighton's nine turnovers normally wouldn't be noteworthy, but more than doubled Tennessee's tally.

The Elite Eight berth for Tennessee is just the second in program history and its first since 2010.