Indianapolis – As time was running out in Saturday’s NCAA Tour second-round game and Michigan was six points behind Tennessee, an idea crept into the mind of fifth-year guard Eli Brooks.
He wanted another chance, another chance to wear the Wolverines costume one last time.
Brooks made sure this happened. He drove a powerful goal during the final eight minutes that propelled No. 11-ranked Michigan to edge past No. 3 Tennessee, 76-68, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse and into the Sweet 16 for the fifth consecutive season.
Getting to Sweet 16 is, however literal, sweet because nobody believes in us,” said sophomore Hunter Dickinson. “Everyone thought we shouldn’t be in the tournament. Now the people who used to hate us are going home and are about to watch us next week.”
Michigan (19-14) will face either second-seeded Villanova or her opponent, ranked No. 7 Ohio State, in Thursday’s Southern District semifinals in San Antonio. The game time will be determined.
Dickinson carried Michigan a lot and finished the game with 27 points and 11 rebounds. But it was Brooks who helped take the Wolverines home, scoring 18 of his 23 second-half points and 11 of those that came during the 22-8 play-off over the 7:21 final.
After Tennessee (27-8) won seven points unanswered with a series of dribbling and dropping – two coming from Kennedy Chandler – to snatch a 60-54 lead with 8:27 remaining, Michigan responded behind Brooks.
Brooks dropped a jump and scored at a driving corner kick to cut the difference to two. The Wolverine family mingled in an area to keep the Tennessee guards off the paint, a move that paid off when the volunteers went aimless for four minutes and the momentum began to shift.
Young striker Terrence Williams II kept the ball rolling with a crucial pair of baskets, jumping twice a minute apart to tie it at 62 with 4:01 remaining.
“At the rally, we talked about him being a dog, being the strongest and most evil out there,” Brooks said of Williams, who scored six of his nine points in the 5:03 final. “And these bounces and pullbacks have been great to keep the momentum going.”
Dickinson added, “I don’t care how many minutes he (Williams) plays, or what, my man will win when he’s there, and he did that today. We don’t win without Terrence Williams second today.”
From there, Brooks turned the game in favor of Michigan. He finished a corner kick through the connection and converted a three-point play to put the Wolverines ahead for good, 65-62, with 3:21 to play.
Brooks’ biggest basket came in the last minute and set the nail in Tennessee’s season. After making a spin that led to a corner kick and trimmed Michigan’s lead to 68-66, he made up for it by flipping a hook shot late in the shot clock that only hit the net with 53 seconds left.
“It got a little deeper than I wanted, so I didn’t have much angle for the backboard,” Brooks said. “The best option was to go straight to the basket.”
Michigan managed to fuel the game off the line, as Brooks, Dickinson and new forward Moussa Diabatti (13 points) combined for six free throws in the last 36 seconds, to keep moving forward.
Chandler finished with 19 points and Josiah Jordan James added 13 for Tennessee. The Volunteers scored 20 points from 15 runs in Michigan, but fired 41.8% from the field (28 to 67), missed 16 of 18 3-point attempts and only made four baskets during the last nine minutes.
“It was a tough game. They played plays that put them in a position to win the game,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. The difference in the game was second-chance points. Those two offensive counter-attacks that we surrendered were huge at the time. Whoever we’ve played with all year is worried about the three-point streak.We’ve missed three or four looks we’d like – I don’t think we could have improved it, but some days it goes by, some days it doesn’t.
“We needed more indoors today. I would have liked to see us do more indoors and put more pressure on Hunter Dickinson. … but give them credit. They played there in the end, and those two offensive repeaters were huge games in the game.”
Grad transfer guard DeVante’ Jones is back in the starting lineup after he missed a first round match while on concussion protocol. He finished with two points, three assists, and three rebounds in his first NCAA game, but he did not play in the second half.
Michigan got off to a fast start behind Dickinson and dominated most of the first half until they faltered. During the final 4:50, the Wolverines flipped it five times and failed to attempt a single shot during the final 2:29. During one sequence, Michigan knocked out an inside pass, gave up a second chance with three pointers, and missed an unchallenged comeback. The Volunteers shook 13-2 as Michigan’s empty possessions led to easy baskets and a 37-32 deficit in the first half.
The Wolverines shook this up by feeding Dickinson at the post after the break. He responded by scoring nine fast points with a series of hooks and free throws while Michigan was leading even at 45 with 15:03 remaining.
That led to a quick stretch back and forth as teams traded blows and Michigan topped three times, most recently in a layup by Brooks to go up, 54-53, at 11:29. From there, Tennessee led by six before Brooks kept Wolverine’s team in search of a national title.
“I just try to live in the moment now and cherish the time we spend with the people in my life right now in Michigan,” Brooks said. “I’m just enjoying the process of playing this tournament again and having a chance to score our last goal.”
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