It’s Wolverines, By a Whisker
Indianapolis — Sweet, now elite. Barely.
A year ago, everything was new for the Michigan basketball team in the NCAA tournament.
Though this year’s team is younger, the Midwest No. 2 seed Wolverines look like the grizzled veterans, showing it in Friday night’s 73-71 Sweet Sixteen win over No. 11 seed Tennessee at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The win sends Michigan (28-8) to Sunday’s Elite Eight regional final, the program’s first consecutive trips since three straight in 1992-94.
But only after a nail-biter in which the Wolverines’ 15-point lead was reduced to one point in the final seconds.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, Jordan Morgan made the play of the season, taking a charge on Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes with 6 seconds left, preventing a Vols’ game-winning attempt.
Michigan has now won 15 straight games of 10-points-or-fewer margins.
It was a mirror of the Texas game six days earlier when Michigan ignored the opponent’s size advantage and buried the Vols from long range hitting 7 of their first 9 3-pointers to lead by double digits at the half.
Yet just like against the Longhorns, the Wolverines had to hold off a second half rally as this one got even tighter.
Tennessee kept cutting down Michigan’s lead, getting to within three points in the final minute, most on the strength of Jordan McRae’s 24 points and 19 from Josh Richardson.
Michigan was balanced with six players scoring nine points or more, led by 15 from Morgan and 14 from Nik Stauskas, whose final free throw gave the two-point win.
After leading by 15 with just under 11 minutes to play, the Wolverines imploded as Tennessee made a second half push with a 9-0 run to get within six points with 6:40 to play and that kept the Vols in striking distance in the final minutes.
Michigan struggled down the stretch with a shot clock violation.
Then Tennessee got within one when Glenn Robinson III succumbed to pressure and threw away the ball with 10.8 seconds left to get Tennessee within one.
Then Caris LeVert stepped on the end line with 9.6 seconds left, cranking the drama before Morgan saved them.
Michigan played the first half about as well as it could. Averaging a stunning 1.4 points per possession, the Wolverines bombed away for a 45-34 halftime lead.
Tennessee, which had allowed only 54 points on average the previous eight full games, had virtually no answers as Michigan scorched the nets.
Hitting 61.5 percent from the field, the biggest damage came from long range as they hit 77.8 percent, on the verge of breaking the game open.
It was difficult to remember by the break that Tennessee led, 21-20, just 10 minutes into the game because Zak Irvin entered, hit a pair of threes, launching U-M on a 16-4 run to grab control.
The only reason Tennessee went to halftime with a prayer was because Michigan had an uncharacteristic six turnovers.