At one point in the second half, the game between Tennessee and Michigan looked to be firmly under the Wolverines’ control. Michigan led by as much as 14 in the second half, but this game was not to be a blowout.
The Vols pulled within one point with only 9.8 seconds to go, but a debatable charging call on Jarnell Stokes gave Michigan the ball, and a free throw and missed half court shot later and the Wolverines escaped with a 73-71 victory in the Sweet Sixteen.
Michigan started out on fire from all over the field, especially from beyond the three-point arc, hitting 7 of 9 threes in the 1st half. The Vols were getting gashed on their interior and perimeter defense, and Michigan took a 45-34 lead into halftime.
It was more of the same to begin the 2nd half, as guards Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. nailed a few more threes (they finished a combined 5-5 from three). They pushed their lead to 14, and the game looked well under control.
That’s when the Vols finally turned on the power.
After the 11:26 mark, the Vols went on a 27-14 run where their defense became suffocating and their shots started falling. Tennessee made it a one point game with 13 seconds to go after a Jordan McRae layup, and all the Big Orange fans at Lucas Oil Stadium were going crazy.
The Vols played stout defense on Michigan’s inbound play, and Caris Levert stepped out of bounds after receiving the inbounds pass, and the Vols had the ball with 9.8 seconds left.
Jarnell Stokes received the pass from the Vols’ inbounds play, ran forward, and had the ball slapped out of his hands as he did so. But it would not be Tennessee’s possession, for a shrill whistle pierced the ears of UT fans everywhere.
The call: Charging foul on Stokes.
After a horrid defensive start (coupled with Michigan’s ridiculous shooting), the Vols had battled back and made a possible blowout into an exciting game. They blocked 8 shots and forced 12 Michigan turnovers, and held the Wolverines to 28 second half points. But, just like with the Florida game earlier in the month, a few whistles would ruin a possible miraculous finish for Tennessee.
To be fair, the Vols dug themselves in quite a hole. They failed to switch correctly on defense, leaving guards wide open for threes. They missed too many free throws and finished hitting only 8 of their 14 free throws in the game.
Jordan McRae finished with 24 points and 6 rebounds, and Josh Richardson once again came up huge with 19 points, continuing his fantastic NCAA Tournament run.
Michigan finished with four players in double figures and two others with 9 points.
It was a good run for the Vols, and a Sweet Sixteen game seemed highly unlikely even just a month ago. But Cuonzo Martin and the Vols were indeed the “Tougher Breed” many times in the month of March, and they’ll finish just a few points short of Tennessee’s 2nd Elite Eight appearance in school history.
It may be the end of the line for the Vols, but enjoy the good times that happened, Vol fans. For the first time since 2010, we had a reason to cheer late into March. I’ll take that any day.