Michigan’s unobstructed run back to the Final Four was nearly halted by a late blown lead, but ultimately bailed out by a close call in the final seconds of its win against Tennessee in the Sweet 16.
For the first time in this tournament, the second-seeded Wolverines were pushed; Michigan had won its previous two tourney games by double digits.
The Wolverines led the 11th-seeded Volunteers by double digits for much of the game before they began to gag and choke it away.
Ultimately, the Wolverines won 73-71, but it left Tennessee to wonder what could have been.
With 3:41 remaining, UT trailed by 10. With 10 seconds remaining, UT trailed by one and had possession.
On the potential game-winning possession, forward Jarnell Stokes was called for an offensive foul as he tried to set up on the low block against Michigan’s Jordan Morgan.
“I don’t think I fouled him, but it was a smart play for him to try to take the charge,” Stokes said. “He pretty much anticipated it.”
Said Morgan: “I know he likes to play bully ball. I like to take charges. It’s what I do.”
The borderline call allowed for Michigan to hold on, despite a last-second half-court shot by Tennessee that was not close.
The teams were even in nearly every category but 3-pointers; Michigan was 11-of-20 from deep whereas Tennessee was 3-of-11.
Michigan led by as many as 13 before Tennessee began to come back.
It was the second consecutive close Sweet 16 win for Michigan, which last season needed overtime in Arlington to upset Kansas.
Last year, Michigan advanced to the Final Four by defeating Kansas and Florida in the regional in Arlington, relying on guard Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas and forward Mitch McGary.
Burke is gone to the NBA, McGary is hurt, but Stauskas is dramatically better and Michigan is one of the best shooting teams in the nation.
But the absence of McGary against Tennessee was evident as Michigan had to rely on shooting which, fortunately, was reliable.
Tennessee’s surprising run in the NCAA Tournament is over, but not before it saved the head coach.
Vols’ head coach Cuonzo Martin, who just about one month ago was thought to be in “serious trouble” of being fired after his third season, should feel considerably safer after leading the Volunteers to the Sweet 16.
One of the final at-large berths in this year’s field, the Vols won three games — the first a “play-in” game — before finally running into a team that could out-shoot their defense.
Tennessee won eight of its final 10 games, thus quieting any talk that Martin is gone.
“What a great job he has done with that team,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “He has done a great job developing the culture of that program.
“We know we beat a good team. They are one of the best defensive teams in the country.”