By Rick Teverbaugh
The Herald Bulletin
INDIANAPOLIS — Tennessee came within one offensive foul call of pulling off one of the really big rallies in NCAA Sweet 16 history.
But Michigan’s Nik Stauskas hit one of two free throws to secure the Wolverines’ place in the Elite Eight at the Midwest Regional at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday night. The final score was 73-71.
Michigan will play Sunday for a trip to the Final Four against the winner of the Kentucky vs. Louisville contest played later Friday night.
The Wolverines appeared to have the game in hand for most of the second half, riding the crest of a 45-34 lead they had carved out in the first 20 minutes.
With 3:40 to go, Stauskas hit a 3-pointer to give Michigan a 70-60 lead and it appeared the game might end with that type of margin. But Tennessee’s Jordan McRae asserted himself with an assist, two baskets and a free throw to cut that lead in half at 72-67 with 1:56 remaining.
For the next 90 seconds nobody scored. Josh Richardson hit a layup to make it 72-69 with only 24 ticks left. The Vols got the ball back nine seconds later. McRae had the ball in the corner at 3-point range, but he also had a clear path to the basket so he drove and scored. The lead was 72-71 with 10 seconds on the clock.
Caris LeVert turned the ball over for Michigan, the 13th miscue for the Wolverines.
Then came the pivotal play of the final seconds. The ball went in to Jarnell Stokes. He went to the basket, but Jordan Morgan was in his way.
“I knew they set a screen to get him open so I knew he was going to make a play,” said Morgan. “I know he likes to play bully ball. I took the charge. That’s what I do.”
That was the call the officials made as well.
Stokes, as expected, had a different view.
“No, I don’t think I fouled him,” he said. “But (Morgan) was smart to try and draw the charge.”
In the final six seconds, Tennessee twice got its hands on an inbounds pass but could never contain it. Finally the Vols had to foul Stauskas with two seconds left. He hit the first, but missed the second. Stokes rebounded, but the deperation shot at the buzzer wasn’t close.
“I am pleased we could score against them,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “That’s a very good defensive team we played.”
Three Indiana players combined to score 24 points for the winners. Glenn Robinson III had 13 of those. Zak Irvin had nine on 3-of-3 shooting from long range, and Spike Albrecht had a field goal.
McRae scored 24 for the Vols to lead all scorers.
“I thought there was great effort for both teams,” said Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin, a Purdue graduate. “It was what you’d expect. It went down to the wire.”
Michigan hit 11-of-20 from 3-point range in the game including 7-of-9 in the first half when the Wolverines took control of the game.
“We hit 3-pointers well all year, it’s what we do,” said Beilein. “Usually, if we hit 10 or more we’re in good shape.
That was true to form on Friday.