Style points are not awarded in the NCAA tournament, and Tennessee’s torrid comeback attempt was not quite effort to prevent another Michigan Elite Eight trip. The Wolverines survived despite scoring just three points in the final 3:41 to win 73-71 and reach its second regional final in as many years.
“Certainly it was a lot of drama at the end, but we’ve had a lot of that this year and a win is a win,” Michigan head coach John Beilein said in his postgame press conference, per ASAPSports.com.
The Wolverines earned all that mattered–the win–but it certainly wasn’t easy. Michigan was outscored 11-3 down the stretch and coughed up two turnovers in the final minute, as a lead that ballooned to as many as 15 points in the second half was whittled to one with 13 seconds remaining.
Jordan McRae scored the last of his game-high 24 points to shave the deficit to 72-71 and Michigan’s Caris LeVert stepped on the baseline on the ensuing in-bounds play.
“When we turn it over, [and] we don’t turn it over much, there’s a big difference in the game,” Beilein said.
The difference was evident. Michigan was firing on all offensive cylinders throughout the first half and much of the second, connecting on 11-of-20 3-point attempts.
Complementing the long-range shooting was the inside presence of Jordan Morgan, who out-dueled Tennessee’s big man Jeronne Maymon.
“We’re not really soft around here,” Morgan said. “That’s not who we are…It’s a pride thing for us. We’re not about to get punked.”
Morgan scored 15 points to lead the Wolverines’ four double-figure scorers and pulled down seven rebounds. His drawing of a charge on Jarnell Stokes with the Vols playing for the late lead was the play of the game. But, like most charge calls, it wasn’t without controversy.
“No, I don’t think I fouled him,” Stokes said in the postgame press conference via ASAPSports.com. “But it was a smart play for him to try to take the charge. He pretty much anticipated it.”
Stokes finished with a solid 11 points, seven of which came in the second half, and six rebounds. But Tennessee rode the dynamic perimeter duo of Josh Richardson and McRae to battle back. The two combined for 43 points and went 18-of-32 from the floor.
McRae crumpled onto the floor after the final buzzer, a trip to the Elite Eight just out of the Vols’ reach.
“Regardless of the outcome, we played hard,” he said. “And it was a huge comeback for us. But the feeling right now, you just can’t really be happy after that.”
As for Michigan, the Wolverines dance on–style points or no. The 2013 national runners-up are a win away from a second straight Final Four and the experience of last year’s deep run is paying dividends through leaders like Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and, according to Beilein, especially the senior Morgan.
“Remember, it’s a real young team. They’re experiencing so much of this really on a first or second time of college,” he said. “The experience showed in Jordan Morgan, he’s been through a lot of these.”