In a game touted as inside power versus outside shooting, the Michigan Wolverines scored a win for outside shooting on Friday night, defeating the Tennessee Volunteers 73-71 with a lethal barrage of three-pointers and superb ball movement. Although Tennessee mounted a furious comeback and were victimized by a questionable charge call at the end, Michigan is moving on to the Elite Eight.
While the Wolverines played to their strength, the Volunteers did exactly the opposite most of the night. Affectionately called the “Bruise Brothers” by Volunteer fans, Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon owned the paint in Tennessee’s first three tournament games. Iowa, UMass and Mercer got a full dose of these two heavyweights and left with double-digit losses and plenty of aches and pains.
Tonight was a different story. Stokes had his worst game of the tournament and seemed content to receive the ball at the free-throw line rather than the block, where he has done the most damage. Stokes finished with 11 points and six rebounds, well below his tournament averages of 20 points and 15 rebounds. Maymon was in foul trouble all night and only had two points and three rebounds. Michigan did an excellent job of limiting their opportunities with double-teams and tenacious rebounding.
Tennessee’s guards tried to match the Wolverines’ shooting prowess, but it was to no avail. Jason Richardson and Jordan McRae scored 43 points combined and ignited a rally with five minutes left to bring Tennessee within one, but in the end, it was not enough. Trying to beat Michigan at their own game was a foolish decision and one that Cuonzo Martin will have to live with in the offseason.
Michigan has lived and died with perimeter shooting all season. Even against other strong perimeter teams in the Big Ten, the Wolverines never strayed from their bread-and-butter: setting high screens and excellent ball reversal to keep the defense off balance. Zak Irvin, Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. were hitting shots from everywhere. This explains why Michigan averaged 75 points per game and shot 48 percent from the field for the season.
The Wolverines clearly had no intention to change on Friday night, shooting 11-for-20 from behind the arc. This onslaught kept Tennessee on its heels and the Wolverine guards were slash into the lane with ease. As the Volunteer defenders collapsed, Jordan Morgan emerged to take the dish from the guards and get some easy baskets. Morgan scored 15 points to lead the scoring for Michigan, but the superb ball movement and shooting of the frontcourt created most of his opportunities.
If Michigan sticks with this game plan and continues to shoot 55 percent from three-point range, they are a threat to beat anyone the rest of the way. They are set to face either Louisville or Kentucky in the next round, two athletic squads with strong inside games. If tonight’s performance against Tennessee reveals anything, it is that Michigan knows exactly what to do.