It genuinely shocks me that there are not more sports related heart attacks reported. If ever there were a basketball game capable of inducing cardiac devastation matching only that of a Wendy’s Baconator, it was Friday’s Sweet Sixteen showdown between Michigan and Tennessee.
The Wolverines held the reins for the majority of the game, maintaining a double-digit lead for over half of the contest. The lofty lead rested at 15 with 10:30 to play.
…And that’s when things got interesting.
The upperclassmen-reliant Volunteers stormed back led by the backcourt combo threat of Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson, who finished with 24 and 19 points respectively. The Michigan lead dissolved to 1 with 10 seconds remaining, and the Wolverines seemed to squander chance after chance to effectively suppress the Volunteers. But ultimately lady luck remained in Michigan’s corner (as Jordan Morgan’s feet were apparently planted) and the Wolverines escaped the strong comeback and triumphed 73-71.
Jordan Morgan- JoMo could not be filling the giant McGary-sized hole any more perfectly. Mirroring Mitch’s 2013 tournament dominance, Morgan hit the ground running Friday and anchored the Wolverines in the paint on both ends of the floor. He managed to lead the team in scoring with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting, to go along with 7 rebounds. Friday’s game showed yet another example of Morgan being underestimated and overshadowed by an opposing big man (just like with Cameron Ridley against Texas), and absolutely stepping up to the challenge with man-sized performances.
Nik Stauskas- Stauskas’ stat sheet might not indicate a performance characteristic of the Big Ten Player of the Year. But at the same time, there is no stat that takes into account the significance of particular made shots. In other words, Stauskas is unequalled in his ability to knock down a big shot at the biggest moment. His buttery stroke led to 14 points on an uncharacteristically low 3-of-8 shooting from downtown. The fact of the matter remains that Stauskas’ mere presence on the court demands defensive priority, opening the floor up to the rest of the team. So even in games when Stauskas doesn’t necessarily pour in an All-American-esque 25, he is responsible for an unmatched chunk of Michigan’s offense.
Caris LeVert- Unlike Stauskas, Caris LeVert certainly filled up the stat sheet, it just so happened that he filled up some negative categories as well. A week after the Wolverines turned the ball over a mere 4 times all game against Texas, LeVert was responsible for 5 of Michigan’s 13 total turnovers vs. Tennessee, including a costly toe slip out of bounds that gave the ball back to the Volunteers with only seconds remaining. On the other hand, LeVert tacked on 10 points to accompany 5 assists and 3 steals, shooting 40% both from the field and three point range.
-Michigan turned the ball over 4 consecutive times to close out the game.
-Before Friday’s loss, Tennessee had held 11 consecutive opponents to fewer than 70 points on only 41% shooting. The Wolverines shot 55% en route to 73.
-Tennessee outblocked Michigan 8 to 1.
-Zak Irvin finished with 9 points on 3-of-5 shooting, 3-of-3 from behind the arc.
With the win, Michigan looks ahead to the winner between John Calipari’s young star-studded Kentucky squad and Rick Pitino’s crafty Louisville bunch. The latter would mean an Elite Eight matchup between last year’s National Championship finalists.
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