The gameplan said No. 11 seed Tennessee’s size would cause problems for No. 2 seed Michigan in Friday night’s Sweet 16 clash at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon were to exploit the Wolverines’ frontcourt, and Josh Richardson and Jordan McRae would bother Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. The Volunteers, one of the hottest teams left in this NCAA tournament, were supposed to make Michigan’s offense work, supposed to make the reigning national runner-up’s path to the Elite Eight difficult. They did more than that.
After looking, at times, dejected and defeated, Tennessee rallied from 15 down in the second half before falling to Michigan, 73-71. With the Vols trailing by three and less than 30 seconds to go, the Wolverines turned the ball over and McRae converted a layup to cut the Wolverines’ lead to one. On Michigan’s next possession, LeVert stepped on the baseline, forfeiting a pivotal possession. Michigan survived after Stokes was called for a questionable offensive foul and Stauskas made a free throw on the other end.
Even without injured center Mitch McGary, who did not play but was in uniform Friday for the first time in more than three month, the Wolverines have wielded one of the nation’s most efficient offenses through most of the season. Behind Stauskas, LeVert and forward Glenn Robinson III, Michigan this season scored fewer points per possession than only two teams (Duke and Creighton).
Still, the Wolverines, who beat Wofford in the round of 64 and Texas in the round of 32, had yet to face a defense of Tennessee’s caliber -- ranked 17th in the country in defensive efficiency – in this tournament. How would their high-octane offense hold up in the face of Tennessee’s length and athleticism? Would Stauskas get enough clean looks to make an impact? Would Michigan’s role players provide enough complementary scoring?
Michigan answered those questions within the first few minutes, as Levert, Stauskas and point guard Derrick Walton Jr. all hit three-point shots before the first TV timeout. The Wolverines hit seven of their nine attempts from beyond the arc (and 16-of-26 attempts from the field) before halftime to build an 11-point lead. Michigan didn’t let up after the break, its offense clicking even as Tennesee tried a tactical adjustment, aligning into a 1-3-1 zone.
Michigan weathered Tennessee’s late charge and held on. Forward Jordan Morgan led Michigan with 15 points and seven rebounds, while Stauskas had 14. McRae scored a game-high 24 points on 9-of-18 shooting. Michigan will face the winner of Friday night's Kentucky-Louisville game on Sunday.
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