INDIANAPOLIS — Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes was dismayed. Jordan McRae was dejected. Cuonzo Martin was terse.
It was an emotional conclusion for the Volunteers.
After adding one more improbable chapter to their remarkable postseason story, Stokes was called for a charge with 6 seconds left and McRae’s desperation heave from 70 feet hit nothing but air as Michigan survived for a 73-71 win Friday in the first Midwest Regional semifinal.
“Obviously we got the ball where we wanted,” Martin said as tears flowed inside the locker room. “Just didn’t get the result.”
The Volunteers (24-13) couldn’t believe it, either.
They fought back from a 15-point deficit in the final 11 minutes by allowing just one basket over the final 3 minutes, 40 seconds, forcing four turnovers in the final 97 seconds and somehow even had a chance to win it when Caris LeVert stepped on the baseline as he caught an inbound pass with 9.6 seconds to go.
Martin called timeout to draw up a play to win it, getting the ball to Stokes.
As Stokes started to make his backdown move toward the basket, he lowered his shoulder and Michigan forward Jordan Morgan crashed to the floor, drawing the call that saved the game for Michigan and infuriated the “Rocky Top” contingent in Indianapolis.
“No, I don’t think I fouled him,” Stokes said after finishing with 11 points and six rebounds. “But it was a smart play for him (Morgan) to try to take the charge. He pretty much anticipated it.”
McRae had 24 points and Josh Richardson added 19.
Morgan, who scored 15 points, simply followed his coach’s advice and stood his ground to get the last turnover of the game.
Big Ten player of the year Nik Stauskas then made a late free throw and a relieved Beilein watched as McRae’s heave fell harmlessly to the floor as the buzzer sounded.
“We got just enough stops,” Beilein said.
The Wolverines (28-8) have won 10 of their last 11, none as tenuous or excruciating as this one to set up a Sunday showdown against either-seeded Kentucky, the 2012 national champion, or fourth-seeded Louisville, who beat Michigan in last year’s national championship game. The Wildcats and Cardinals met in Friday night’s second game.
Yet it almost didn’t happen.
With 10:55 to go, Spike Albrecht’s layup gave Michigan a seemingly insurmountable 60-45 lead.
When Stauskas made the last of his three 3-pointers with 3:40 to go, the Wolverines still led 70-60. Stauskas finished with 14 points.
For some reason, Michigan went into panic mode and, just two weeks after nearly blowing two big leads in the Big Ten tournament, they nearly threw this one away.
But when the Wolverines needed to make a defensive play they listened to Beilein who implored them to buckle down and take the charge.
For most of the night, Michigan relied on its shooting stars to stay in control against a defense that had allowed just 54.0 points in its previous eight games.
The Wolverines took a 13-point lead in the first half and still led 45-34 at halftime because they were shooting 61.5 percent from the field and made 7 of 9 on 3-pointers. Michigan didn’t slow down early in the second half, either, taking the biggest lead of the game at 60-45.
But somehow Tennessee played itself right back into the game.
The 11th-seeeded Vols, who had a first-round game in overtime at Dayton, Ohio, just to start their surprising postseason run, cut the deficit to 62-56 with 6:45 left. They got within 72-67 when McRae completed a three-point play with 1:56 to go. They made it 72-69 when Josh Richardson scored the last of his 19 points on a layup with 24.6 seconds left. McRae’s layup following another Michigan turnover made it 72-71 with 10.8 seconds remaining.
Martin then made the call to give Stokes a chance to win it with a basket or draw the foul.
“We got the ball to Jarnell. Jordan set a screen for him to get him right to isolate him, attack him in the middle,” Martin explained. “Obviously we got the ball where we wanted.”
However, the call went against them.
“We heard all week about they had mismatches and how we couldn’t guard them inside,” Morgan said after letting out a scream at the end. “We’re not really soft around here. That’s not who we are.”