RALEIGH, N.C. -- Mercer won the opening tip-off, lost the ball and Tennessee guard Antonio Brown scored a layup to give the Vols a lead 22 seconds into Sunday night's game.
It was all downhill from there, as No. 11 seed Tennessee cruised to an 83-63 win against No. 14 Mercer to earn a spot in the Sweet 16. This was the fourth time in NCAA tournament history that a round-of-32 matchup featured a No. 11 seed vs. a No. 14 seed.
For just more than 48 hours, Mercer had been the darling of the NCAA tournament, the lowest seed to win in the round of 64 and a team that held a special place in many fans' hearts after knocking off blueblood and No. 3 seed Duke on Friday. But all stories must come to an end — even Cinderella's.
Meanwhile, Tennessee's impressive run continues. The Vols are now winners of eight of their last nine games — with an average margin of victory of 20.9 points — and one of the most dangerous teams in the country.
Sunday night, Tennessee got the job done with an earth-shattering performance on the glass. The Vols grabbed 40 total boards, and they rebounded 18 of their misses. Mercer could not match their physicality in the paint, grabbing just 18 (which matched Tennessee's top individual rebounder). To wit: On one possession midway through the second half, Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes bumped into a Mercer player, causing him to fall, before grabbing two consecutive offensive rebounds. It was that kind of day.
Stokes was particularly dominant, with 17 points and 18 rebounds. He's put together quite a string of performances this NCAA tournament, averaging 20.3 points and 14.7 boards over Tennessee's three games.
This Tennessee offense works best when it runs through him frequently, and it's pretty unstoppable when that's the case. It surely helps, too, when junior guard Josh Richardson scores a career-high 24 points like he did Sunday, and the team on the whole shoots nearly 50% from the field. Next up for the Vols is No. 2 Michigan in Indianapolis.