INDIANAPOLIS – Michigan coach John Beilein had watched his team blow almost all of a 15-point lead, and he was sure he knew how Tennessee would try to take the lead.
With 6 seconds left and trailing 72-71, Cuonzo Martin would probably send the ball into Jarnell Stokes, who would try to back into the post or drive. Beilein urged his defenders to buckle down and keep Stokes away from the rim.
Jordan Morgan, who scored 15 points, heeded his coach’s advice and stood his ground until Stokes lowered his shoulder. The senior forward immediately crashed to the floor – perhaps embellishing the contact – drawing the call that saved the game for Michigan and infuriated Tennessee’s “Rocky Top” contingent.
Big Ten player of the year Nik Stauskas made a late free throw and nobody was more relieved than Beilein when Jordan McRae’s 70-foot heave fell harmlessly to the floor as the buzzer sounded on a 73-71 Michigan victory.
“We got just enough stops,” Beilein said.
Tennessee thought they got one stop unfairly.
“With the magnitude of this game, I don’t think you could call a charge at that point,” McRae said dejectedly after.
But the officials did call it, allowing Michigan to reach a second straight regional final.
The Wolverines (28-8) have won 10 of their last 11, none as tenuous or excruciating as this one to set up a Sunday showdown against eighth-seeded Kentucky, the 2012 national champion.
Tennessee almost pulled off one of the most stunning comebacks in recent regional memory.
With 10:55 left, Spike Albrecht’s layup gave Michigan a seemingly insurmountable 60-45 lead.
When Stauskas made the last of his three 3-pointers with 3:40 to go, the Wolverines still led 70-60. For some reason, Michigan went into panic mode and, just two weeks after nearly blowing leads in the Big Ten tournament, they nearly threw this one away.
The Volunteers staunch defense limited Michigan to just one basket over the final 3:40 and forced four turnovers in the final 97 seconds to give themselves a chance in the closing seconds.
“I don’t think I fouled him,” said Stokes, who had 11 points and six rebounds after two straight double-doubles. “But it was a smart play for him to try to take the charge. He pretty much anticipated it.”
Just as Beilein had predicted.
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