INDIANAPOLIS — Eli Brooks put Michigan ahead for good with a three-point play and delivered four critical points in the final minute, and the 11th-seeded Wolverines booked the most surprising of their five straight trips to the Sweet 16 by beating No. 3 seed Tennessee 76-68 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
Brooks finished with 23 points, including a looping, improvised hook shot and two free throws as Michigan (19-14) put away the Volunteers, who had a six-point lead with 8 1/2 minutes left but then went four minutes without scoring. Their cold shooting continued until it was too late.
Big man Hunter Dickinson had 27 points and two of his 10 rebounds in the closing seconds for the Wolverines, whose five straight Sweet 16 appearances are the most in Division I. Gonzaga is the only other team to make it four straight times.
Michigan will face either second-seeded Villanova or longtime rival Ohio State, the No. 7 seed, in Thursday’s South Region semifinals in San Antonio, Texas.
Hardly a conventional Cinderella given its resources and pedigree, this Michigan team nonetheless came into the tournament amid low expectations. The Wolverines have the worst record of any team left in the field and did the bare minimum down the stretch to secure an at-large berth. Their consecutive wins in the tourney are their first since mid-February.
But coach Juwan Howard’s squad still has plenty of talent and elevated its play down the stretch against the Southeastern Conference champions. Howard himself had to learn some lessons about composure when he was suspended for five games late in the season for hitting a Wisconsin assistant during a postgame handshake line.
Kennedy Chandler had 19 points and Josiah-Jordan James had 13 for Tennessee (27-8), which had a seven-game winning streak snapped. Two days after shooting a school tourney record 60% from the field, the Vols shot 41.8% and came up short again in the postseason. Tennessee lost to Oregon State in the first round last year, also at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
This year, the arena was filled to the rafters with an orange hue and Vols fans repeatedly belted out the lyrics to “Rocky Top” during timeouts – a stark contrast from last year when attendance limited to about 25% of capacity because of COVID-19 restrictions, the energy made a difference.
Wolverines starting point guard DeVante’ Jones returned from the concussion protocol, only to be pulled in the first half after colliding with teammate Moussa Diabate.
Michigan controlled most of the first half until the Vols used a late 13-4 run to take a 37-32 halftime lead. Tennessee played from the lead most of the second half until Michigan went on a 14-5 run.
The Wolverines twice tied the score on tip-ins from Terrance Williams II. And then Brooks swung the game.
His three-point play with 3:21 to go made it 65-62. Chandler’s jumper cut the deficit to 66-64, but James missed a 3-pointer and Brooks answered with his old-school hook before Michigan closed it out at the free-throw line.
Michigan: The Wolverines played better than their seeding in Indianapolis, winning the first game with a backup point guard before beating the SEC champs. Now, in Howard’s second season, Michigan is two wins away from another Final Four appearance.
Tennessee: Coach Rick Barnes’ team appeared to be peaking before the tournament, which will make this loss difficult to accept.
Michigan will try to win its third in a row for the first time since late January.