It was a scary finish for Michigan, who almost let a double digit lead slip away from them in the final seconds. It was a courageous finish from Tennessee, but their upsetting days for this season are over, as Jordan McRae having a big night wasn’t enough to hold off the Wolverines, losing 73-71.
Michigan led by 15 points with 10 minutes left in the game, but Tennessee moved up its pressure to the highest level, and their half court traps and full court presses finally created turnovers and dividends. Michigan were outscored 26-13 in the final 10 minutes, and let a 72-64 lead slip away from them with some foolish turnovers, but Tennessee simply didn’t have enough time to make up for playing badly for most of the game.
The Wolverines did what they’ve been doing great all season and specifically in the tournament: Shoot 3’s. Jordan Morgan led the team with 15 points and 7 rebounds, but it was the shooting of Nik Stauskas and Zak Irvin, hitting six of the 11 3-pointers by Michigan in the game, that gave the Vols most of their problems. Michigan shot 55.1% from the field and 55% from beyond the arc, but their turnovers late in the game (13 overall to Tennessee’s 7) almost cost them moving on to the Elite Eight, where they will face Kentucky.
Jordan Morgan was the player who gave Michigan a different dimension, making it complicated for Tennessee early on. He scored 14 of his points in the paint, compared to Tennessee’s Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes combining to score 12 points of their own in the paint. The Problems for Michigan began when they weren’t playing with their starting lineup, which included Moran, Stauskas, Robinson, Levert and Walton. The Wolverines scored 51 more points per 100 possessions with their starting 5 than they did with all other lineups, and their defensive efficiency dropped significantly with other lineups as well.
At their best came when Morgan and Walton were playing together. With the 2 of them playing together, Michigan outscored Tennessee by 8. With that duo on the court, Michigan scored 48 more points per 100 possessions and allowed 23 fewer points per 100 possessions than it did with at least one of them off the court.
But at some point it comes to more than statistics and efficiency, helping explain things only after the game, and not in specific plays, when it simply comes down to execution. Tennessee didn’t do things well enough and quick enough early on, not thinking on offense during too many possessions. Michigan lost their head in the final two minutes, but one Stauskas free throw (missing the second) clinched the victory, leaving Tennessee with only a desperation shot to try and win the game.
It was also about showing they’re more than just this shooting team with no inside presence. It might not have looked like it in the end, but Michigan did a good job in the paint for most of the game, and it means that they shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to their defensive abilities as well.
We got just enough stops. We heard all week about they had mismatches and how we couldn’t guard them inside. We’re not really soft around here. That’s not who we are.