Michigan’s Sweet 16 battle with Tennessee carried out according to plan for the first 30 minutes. The threes were falling, Jordan Morgan controlled the paint and the Wolverines led by double-digits for most of the second half. Nik Stauskas buried a three-pointer with 3:40 to play to put the Wolverines up by 10 and the game looked all but over.
Then Michigan started to unravel down the stretch in a fashion that was eerily reminiscent of its Sweet 16 game last year – in the opposite direction. In its next six possessions, Michigan missed two shots, made one and turned the ball over four times. Tennessee scored on five of its six possessions and cut Michigan’s lead to just one point with 10 seconds to play.
Cuonzo Martin drew up a post isolation play for his best player, Jarnell Stokes, who dropped his shoulder right into Michigan’s fifth-year senior leader Jordan Morgan. Morgan was in the right spot and got the call – the second biggest drawn charge of his career.
The Wolverines finally managed to inbound the ball and get to the free throw line, where Stauskas split a pair, and Tennessee’s desperation heave sailed over the basket. Michigan escaped and will play Kentucky (Sunday 5:05 p.m.) for a trip back to the Final Four.
Michigan’s offense was unstoppable in the first half – managing 1.45 points per trip in the opening 20 minutes – but stalled badly down the stretch, mostly due to the late game turnovers. The Wolverines rarely missed — 55% on twos, 55% on threes – but were uncharacteristically lax with the basketball. Michigan gave the ball away on nearly 22% of its possessions and the turnovers came from every direction: poor inbounding, poor decision making in transition or dribbling into traffic. Despite the turnover woes, Michigan’s 1.21 points per trip were the most than Tennessee allowed all season.
Michigan’s defense deserves a lot of credit for doing a great job on the defensive glass. Tennessee didn’t score a second chance point in the first half, managed just eight for the game and only rebounded 35.5% of its misses. Morgan, Horford, Walton and Robinson were all active on the defensive glass and cleaned up consistently.
On the other hand, Michigan’s perimeter defense was horrendous. Tennessee settled for jumpers in the first half, but realized it could attack the rim in the second. The Vols were 3-of-8 on triples in the first and just 0-of-3 in the second. They shot 59% on twos for the game and it wasn’t so much the big men inside that hurt Michigan, it was Richardson 9-of-14 and McRae (9-of-18) that got to the rim whenever they wanted.
Michigan survived with a win despite tripping over itself down the stretch. The Wolverines defense was beaten with relative ease, but this is the ninth game that Michigan has won while giving up over 1.10 points per possession. Michigan’s going to go out gunning, every game is going to be a shootout for this group but there just aren’t many teams in the country that can keep pace when Michigan is clicking.
- Jordan Morgan: What else can you say about Jordan Morgan at this point? He finished with 15 points and 7 rebounds – Tennessee’s two starting big men combined for 13 points and 9 rebounds. He had some monster dunks, a critical half-hook late and then took the charge that saved the Wolverines. It’s clear Morgan doesn’t want to stop playing and who could blame him?
- Glenn Robinson III: Jeronne Maymon couldn’t guard Robinson – not the other way around as many projected. Robinson went at Maymon with confidence from the opening tip and had his way. Maymon’s foul trouble forced Tennessee to go small, which might have been a blessing in disguise for the Vols. Robinson scored 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, grabbed five rebounds, handed out two assist and picked up a steal in 39 minutes. He was aggressive, engaged and efficient as he continued his steady play of late.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas hit some big threes but was mostly held in check by Josh Richardson. He finished with 14 points on 5-of-12 (3-8 3pt) shooting. He really struggled defensively against Richardson, was 8-of-12 on two point attempts. Stauskas was clearly the focus of Tennessee’s defense – a reason that so many other Wolverines had big games – but didn’t have his best day. The highlight of his night was a self-pass off the backboard which he caught and fired to Derrick Walton on the wing, who was fouled shooting a three.
- Derrick Walton: Walton had something of a quiet game, but he made a lot of big plays: an early banked three, a late three from his favorite spot on the wing, a great assist to Morgan late on the ball screen (and then almost another that Morgan fumbled). He had three turnovers, but he also had some great assists (4).
- Caris LeVert: LeVert made some good plays, but he also made a lot of mistakes. He had five assists… but also five turned. He shot 4-of-10 (2-5 3pt) from the field and had three steals, but just his decision making was off all game. He fired up a few early threes, drove into traffic and stepped on the end line in the final 3 0seconds.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin scored 9 points on 3-of-5 (3-3 3pt) shooting in 11 minutes. That sort of production off the bench is invaluable for a Michigan offense that’s already nearly impossible to guard.
- Jon Horford: Horford gave Michigan a critical shift in the second half and played his best game in weeks. He had a few tough defensive rebounds and almost had a monster put-back dunk.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht’s lone field goal was a floater in the lane over Maymon, perhaps the most unlikely shot in the game. He only managed one assist in 10 minutes.