INDIANAPOLIS — What a way to go out.
If Tennessee’s NCAA tournament run was unlikely, the way it ended was even more bizarre.
In the Sweet 16 for just the seventh time in program history, the Volunteers ended their season where five others also did. Red-hot Michigan torched Tennessee for 45 first-half points, held off a late rally by the 11 seeds and survived a wild finish as the second-seeded Wolverines won 73-71 in the Midwest Region semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday night.
It was a step up in class for Tennessee (24-13), which ran through Iowa in Dayton and Massachusetts and Mercer in Raleigh to get to Indy against Michigan, the regular-season champion of the Big Ten Conference.
The Wolverines (28-8), who lost to Louisville in the 2013 national championship game, scorched the Vols in the first half, and the 45 points Tennessee allowed were a season high, surpassing South Carolina-Upstate’s 42-point first half way back in November.
The Vols trailed by 15 points in the second half before making a late charge that got them to within five points on a couple of occasions, including on Jordan McRae’s three-point play that made it 72-67 with 1:56 left in the game.
Tennessee failed to capitalize on a couple of chances by forcing a turnover and a shot-clock violation, and Josh Richardson made it a one-possession game with 23 seconds left.
It only got wilder from there.
Jarnell Stokes came up with a loose ball on the ensuing Michigan possession, and McRae scored to make it 72-71 Michigan with 10.8 seconds left.
Michigan’s Caris LeVert stepped on the baseline catching an inbounds pass with 9.6 seconds left, giving Tennessee the ball with a chance to win, but Stokes was called for a charge as he drove into Michigan center Morgan in the post.
Nik Stauskas, Michigan’s leading scorer, split two free throws with 2.1 seconds left, and McRae’s halfcourt heave sailed over the backboard at the buzzer.
Morgan led the guard-oriented Wolverines with 15 points, Stauskas added 14 and Glenn Robinson III chipped in 13.
McRae scored 24 points to lead Tennessee, and Richardson added 19 points. Tennessee allowed Michigan to shoot 55 percent for the game, and the Wolverines, who average nearly nine 3-pointers a game and shoot it nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc, were 11-of-20 from 3-point range.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...