Michigan keeps exceeding expectations during another tournament run

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INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan was supposed to be in this position.

Heading to the Elite 8 behind a balanced offensive attack led by the Big Ten Player of the Year.

Except consensus preseason All-American Mitch McGary has been out of the lineup for Michigan since December 21st with a back injury that forced the sophomore big man to have season-ending surgery on January 7th.

Many left the Wolverines for dead with no chance of making it back to the Final Four after last year’s championship-game loss to Louisville. But now, No. 2 seed Michigan is one game away from doing just that after Friday’s 73-71 win over No. 11 seed Tennessee in the Sweet 16 of the Midwest Regional.

Behind a new Big Ten Player of the Year — sophomore wing Nik Stauskas — Michigan is sporting one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the country as the Wolverines look like a major threat in the Midwest thanks to its potent perimeter attack.

“We have a really confident group here,” Stauskas said. “The fact that we’ve been through that run we had last year, we just have to go out and have fun. We know what we’re capable of doing and we just try to stick to our game plan and have fun doing it.”

Michigan entered Friday’s contest shooting 39.8% from three-point range this season and that trend of hot shooting continued against Tennessee on Friday. Michigan started 7-for-9 from distance in the first half before finishing 55 percent (11-for-20) for the game.

With five different Wolverines knocking down a three-pointer, Michigan forces teams to pick and choose who to help off of on ball screens and on the perimeter. With three guys in Stauskas, sophomore guard Caris LeVert and freshman point guard Derrick Walton that can operate pick-and-rolls and hit shots from the perimeter, the Wolverines can throw a lot of different looks at an opposing defense. And that doesn’t include the offensive versatility and athleticism of sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III.

“You saw that with Texas. I feel like we had a really balanced attack in that game,” Stauksas said. “It makes it toughest for teams to guard you if you have four or five or six guys who are capable of scoring at any time. They don’t really know what to do with that. I think you saw that in the first half (against Tennessee), especially, with our spacing on the floor, they didn’t really know who to help off of, who not to help off of and it kind of led to some easy baskets.”

While Stauskas and the perimeter threats were a known commodity entering the Tournament, the continued solid play of senior forward Jordan Morgan is a huge reason why Michigan is in its current position.

Morgan and Robinson III were thought to be at a disadvantage facing Tennessee’s interior duo of senior forward Jeronne Maymon and junior forward Jarnell Stokes but Michigan held the duo to 13 points on Friday as Morgan took the potential game-saving charge on Stokes with six seconds left and the Wolverines clinging to a 72-71 lead. The senior also had a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds for Michigan after recording back-to-back double-doubles to start the tournament.

“We heard all week about they had mismatches and how we couldn’t guard them inside. I guess people forgot we play in the Big Ten and we won the Big Ten outright,” Morgan said. “So we’re not really soft around here. That’s not who we are. We lift a lot of weights. So it’s just ‑‑ I don’t know, it’s a pride thing for us. We’re not about to get punked.”

People must have forgotten that Morgan and Robinson had to defend a healthy McGary in practice last season or that they went through a tough and physical Big Ten. Michigan played a difficult non-conference schedule with games against Iowa State, Arizona, Duke and Stanford. Morgan and his Michigan teammates feel prepared to face anything by this point.

“(I told them to) have a strong chest and try to keep them off the glass and that’s what they did out there tonight,” McGary said of his frontcourt teammates against Tennessee.

Although McGary is relegated to the role of America’s most famous cheerleader during the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the sophomore dressing in uniform and warming up with his teammates before the game seemed to give Michigan an additional emotional boost.

“Obviously I’m not going to play or anything like that but I feel more connected to my teammates when I dress,” McGary said. “I think it (gave my teammates a lift for) a little bit. I also didn’t want to take credit away from them because people make such a big deal about it. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal because I’m wearing a uniform just like them.”

People made a big deal of Michigan losing Mitch McGary, but the Wolverines keep humming along and winning close games. They’re 22-4 since McGary went down with the season-ending injury and now they’re in position to potentially make another Final Four.

Not many anticipated Michigan to be in this position — given this season’s adversity — except for the confident group of Wolverines that keep hitting shots and winning close games.

“I don’t know if we’re getting lucky or what we’re doing but we just seem to have a thing about pulling out games and winning in the last couple of minutes,” Stauskas said. “Maybe that’s our toughness or resiliency to get these wins but we’ve done a great job both offensively and defensively to hold onto these games.”

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

Saul Young/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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Saul Young/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.