Mar 28, 2014, 9:36 PM EST
INDIANAPOLIS — At 39.8 percent from the three-point line, Michigan was one of the best teams in the country at filling it up from the perimeter this season.
In the first half of the No. 2 seed Wolverines’ contest against No. 11 seed Tennessee on Friday, though, Michigan nearly doubled that percentage as the Wolverines came out red-hot on the offensive end behind a balanced effort as six different players scored at least six points and Michigan shot 77.8 percent (7-for-9) from the three-point line. The first-half perimeter shooting helped propel Michigan to a 45-34 halftime lead and the Wolverines never trailed in the second half of their 73-71 win over the Volunteers in a Sweet 16 game in the Midwest Regional at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Michigan shot 55 percent from three-point line (11-for-20) for the game as four players finished in double-figures for the Wolverines.
Tennessee made the game interesting in the final minutes when the Volunteers cut the Michigan lead to 72-71 with 10.8 seconds remaining on a driving layup by senior wing Jordan McRae (24 points). On the ensuing inbounds play, Michigan sophomore guard Caris LeVert (10 points, five assists) touched the baseline out-of-bounds and gave Tennessee a possession with a chance to win the game, trailing 72-71 with 9.6 seconds remaining.
But senior center Jordan Morgan (15 points, seven rebounds) took a charge on Tennessee junior forward Jarnell Stokes (11 points) with six seconds left to give Michigan the ball back. After two Tennessee deflections out of bounds, junior forward Nik Stauskas (14 points) was fouled with 2.1 seconds remaining and split a pair of free throws to give Michigan the 73-71 lead. Off of a Stokes defensive rebound, McRae missed a three-quarters court heave at the buzzer that didn’t come close to seal the Michigan victory.
Stauskas, the 2013-14 Big Ten Player of the Year, has been the focal point for the Michigan offense all season long but on Friday he had plenty of help from a confident group of Wolverine shooters. If Michigan continues to play this well on offense, they look like a serious threat to make it back to the Final Four. Even with sophomore All-American candidate Mitch McGary acting as the NCAA Tournament’s most famous cheerleader from the Michigan bench, the Wolverines have plenty of ammo on the offensive end to beat any team in the country.
Michigan (28-8) decimated Tennessee’s defense in the first half by exploiting mismatches on high ball screens as Stauskas, LeVert and freshman point guard Derrick Walton (nine points, six rebounds, four assists) all did a great job finding open teammates and moving the ball.
Sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III (13 points) and Morgan (15 points, seven rebounds) did damage on the interior from there as the duo was also able to limit the Tennessee interior duo of senior forward Jeronne Maymon and Stokes (11 points) to a combined 13 points.
Michigan’s interior defense and ability to keep Tennessee away from the offensive glass was a key point entering the game and the Wolverines did an admirable job against the bigger Volunteers, limited Tennessee to eight second-chance points.
Freshman wing Zak Irvin also contributed nine points off the bench for Michigan as the freshman from nearby Fishers, Indiana knocked down three three-pointers.
Despite a strong first half from sophomore guard Josh Richardson (19 points), Tennessee (24-13) couldn’t get in an offensive rhythm to match Michigan’s first-half output.
The Volunteers shot 52.6 percent from the field for the game (30-for-57) but couldn’t defend Michigan’s for long enough to get over the hump and make a comeback. Michigan led by double-digits for a large chunk of the early part of the second half and held off the late Tennessee second-half push. Michigan led for the entire second half.
In his final college game, McRae scored 16 of his game-high 24 points in the second half.
The Wolverines now move on to face the winner of No. 8 seed Kentucky and No. 4 seed Louisville in Sunday’s Elite 8 contest in Indianapolis.
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Michigan State lost a lot of talent and experience from a title contender last season, but they’ve remained a top 25 team thanks to tremendous three-point shooting.
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That’s one heartbreaking way to lose a game.
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