Tennessee seized the momentum in the second half, outplayed Michigan down the stretch and came within one play of advancing to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament on Friday night.
But the damage had been done. And it was done in 3s.
Michigan made seven of nine 3-pointers in building an 11-point, first-half lead and hit two clutch to impede Tennessee’s late charge in a 73-71 victory in the Midwest Regional at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Vols bounced back from the first-half barrage while demonstrating many of the same attributes that helped them win the first three games of the tournament after starting out as a No. 12 seed.
However, the same defense that triggered Tennessee’s late-season surge and stepped up gamely in the second half proved too vulnerable early.
“I knew the first half, the way we played, that’s just not us,” UT backup guard Armani Moore said.
The statistics backed him up. In its other three NCAA tournament games, UT held opponents to 26.5 percent 3-point shooting.
But defending Iowa, Massachusetts and Mercer on the perimeter was nothing like defending Michigan, which entered the game having hit 39.8 percent of its 3-pointers.
While Tennessee’s defense might have been out of character, Michigan’s offense was humming along at a business-as-usual pace. Five different players hit at least one 3. Zak Irvin was 3-for-3 and Derrick Walton was 2-for-2. Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert also made multiple 3s.
“We’re going to shoot well from 3,” said Michigan coach John Beilein, whose team moved to within one victory of back-to-back Final Fours. “If you have good patience and good shooters, you can make a lot of those shots.”
Michigan fans have come to expect as much.
So you couldn’t blame them for applauding even before Stauskas launched one of his 3-pointers late in the first half.
If he were open, they liked his chances. And their premature cheers suggested they didn’t feel much different about the rest of Michigan’s 3-point sharpshooters.
“Usually, when we make 10 (3s), we’re going to win,” Beilein said matter-of-factly.
Michigan finished 11-for-20 from 3-point range, and the 10th and 11th 3s both figured prominently in the outcome.
By John Adams, Knoxville News-Sentinel (MCT)