Michigan basketball stuns Tennessee to reach NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16

INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan picked the perfect time to finally win consecutive games. The Wolverines stunned Tennessee 76-68 on Saturday night to advance to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.

Down six points with 7.5 minutes left, the Wolverines rallied for the upset. Michigan, an 11 seed, advances to a regional semifinal for the fifth straight NCAA Tournament. The 3 seed Volunteers are going home.

Hunter Dickinson led all players with 27 points and 11 rebounds. Eli Brooks scored 23. Terrance Williams II delivered some huge baskets down the stretch and finished with nine points in 14 minutes off the bench.

The Wolverines are headed to San Antonio and will play on Thursday in the Sweet 16. They’ll face the winner of Sunday’s game between 2 seed Villanova and 7 seed Ohio State (2:40 pm, CBS).

Michigan point guard DeVante’ Jones returned to the starting lineup after missing Thursday’s first-round game — a comeback win over Colorado State — due to a concussion but only played 12 minutes on Saturday, all in the first half. He stayed in the locker room during halftime and never returned to the bench, though his issue was not clear during the game.

Caleb Houstan, Michigan’s starting shooting guard, was held scoreless, going 0-for-4 over 32 minutes. And yet Michigan got enough production elsewhere, and played exceptional defense late, to rally late against an orange-hot opponent.

Tennessee had won 13 of its last 14 games and had clobbered its first-round opponent, albeit 14 seed Longwood, by 32 points.

Michigan, on the other hand, Michigan had not won two straight games since Feb. 8 and 10, alternating between a win and a loss for 11 straight contests. The streak was snapped on Saturday to keep Michigan’s (19-14) season alive.

Defense was a big reason. Tennessee, despite its bevy of capable shooters, went just 2-of-18 from 3-point range. Freshman guard Kennedy Chandler led the Volunteers with 19 points and led all players with nine assists. A zone defense helped slow Tennessee’s attack in the second half.

Moussa Diabaté provided 13 points and six rebounds for Michigan. Head coach Juwan Howard stuck with freshman point guard Frankie Collins — who’d filled in for Jones on Thursday too — Brooks, and Dickinson down the stretch, and split the forward spots among Diabaté, Williams, and Houstan. No other Wolverine played in the final 10 minutes; Brandon Johns Jr. played eight minutes overall.

Dickinson hit three 3-pointers and released each of them. Michigan went a respectable 6-for-16 as a team from deep.

The Wolverines wore maize throwback uniforms inspired by the program’s lone national championship team in 1989. Usually reserved for one home game a year against Michigan State, the Wolverines pulled them out again with the season on the line.

They played like champions in crunch time.

Despite playing poorly at the end of the first half and heading back to the locker room down five, Michigan didn’t panic. A strong start to the second half tied the game five minutes in. After the teams traded blows, Michigan took the lead for good on a Brooks and-one with 3:21 to go. The fifth-year senior played 39 of the 40 minutes on Saturday. Dickinson played 38.

Michigan beat Tennessee for the fourth straight time, with the last three coming in the NCAA Tournament. Saturday’s game resembled the 2014 Tournament matchup in that it was competitive to the end.

As the second half was about to start, former Wolverine Ray Jackson stood, clapped, and encouraged and Dickinson. “Let’s go, big fella. They can’t guard you!” It was reminiscent of a different Fab Five member, Jalen Rose, inspiring the Wolverines during Thursday’s halftime.

In both instances, the message was received. Dickinson scored Michigan’s first nine points of the half. A Brooks 3 in transition — “Boom!” the fifth-year senior yelled as the ball ripped the net — got Michigan within one a few minutes in. Diabaté’s free throw tied it with 15:03 left. A minute later, Dickinson rattled in a 3 that gave Michigan a lead, 50-49. He then dove for a loose ball, joining teammate Brandon Johns Jr. on the floor, that had the Michigan bench — players and coaches — going bonkers.

The game went back and forth from there, looking every bit like the high-level NCAA Tournament matchup it was.

Michigan went back up one on a Brooks layup with 11:29 left before Tennessee got some separation with three straight layups, then a free throw, to make it 60-54. Michigan ended the run, and its own drought of more than four minutes, on Brooks’ jumper off a handoff. The veteran guard delivered again on a reverse layup to cut the margin to two. Terrance Williams’ had two acrobatic tip-ins, each of which tied the game. The second made it 62-all with 4:01 left.

After a stop, Brooks evaded pressure to get to the rim. He finished through a Volunteer trying to take a charge, and scored. Brooks pointed to the player on the ground, in the no-charge circle: “And one, baby!” His free throw made it 65-62 with 3:21 left.

Chandler answered with a jumper. Dickinson drew contact and split a pair of free throws. Michigan forced two misses at the other end, with Williams corralling the second and drawing a foul. He went to the line for a one-and-one and made both to put Michigan ahead 68-64 with 2:09 left. UM forced a shot clock violation — Zakai Zeigler’s make was a split-second too late — at the other end.

But a turnover on the inbounds led to a Tennessee basket. No worries: Brooks pulled a running hook shot out of his tool bag to send the small but vocal Michigan contingent into hysterics. Somewhere, his former teammate Zavier Simpson was smiling.

After John Fulkerson’s absurd putback cut it to four, Diabaté made a pair of free throws. Dickinson grabbed a rebound at the other end and was fouled. Dickinson trashed talked a Tennessee cheerleader before going back on defense.

Over the final five minutes of the first half, Tennessee capitalized off five Michigan turnovers to turn a five-point deficit into a six-point halftime lead.

The Wolverines started the game hot. Brooks and Dickinson drained 3s on Michigan’s opening possessions, Jones and Diabaté scored inside, and Michigan went up 10-2 three minutes in.

Jones subbed out at the first media timeout and left the bench area, apparently with a wrist injury. He returned at the next timeout, with 11:57 to go in the half, with his right wrist taped.

After a brief Tennessee surge, Dickinson’s second 3 made it 15-10 Michigan. The 7-foot-1 center swung his arm between his legs in celebration as he jogged back on defense.

Brooks had a pass intercepted by Chandler, who took it the other way for a dunk that gave Tennessee its first lead, 18-17, with 9:36 left in the half. Terrance Williams II got it right back wit ha corner 3.

Diabaté had continuous strong finishes inside, the second through a foul. He missed the free throw but Michigan still led 30-24 with 4:50 left. That’s when things got shaky for Michigan, with turnovers and missed shots on one end and some scrambling at the other leading to a Tennessee run.

Tennessee’s Josiah-Jordan James made two free throws. Williams airmailed an inbounds. Chandler hit a 3. Brooks, then Diabaté, each had a layup roll off the rim just before the final media timeout of the half.

Chandler put Tennessee ahead with another midrange jumper off the dribble. Dickinson ended Michigan’s mini drought with a foul line jumper but the Vols kept coming. Santiago Vescovi, whose outside shooting concerned Michigan, got free for his first basket, a 3. Uros Plavsic dunked through a foul and stared down Houstan and the Michigan bench before plopping in a free throw to make it 37-32 with 39 seconds left in the half.

Michigan called timeout to draw up a play, but committed its ninth turnover. That, more than anything, was the difference in the half. Tennessee missed a wide-open 3 just before the buzzer but still closed the half with a 13-2 run.

Michigan trailed by even more (seven) against Colorado State on Thursday but stepped up in the second half. The same was true Saturday, and Michigan is still dancing as a result.

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