March 29, 2014 at 2:06 am

John Niyo

Michigan's sweet shooters sink another tourney foe

Michigan's John Beilein, Jordan Morgan on win over...
Michigan's John Beilein, Jordan Morgan on win over...: The Wolverines talk about their triumph in the Sweet 16 game.

Indianapolis — Oh, shoot.

That’s about as foul-mouthed as Michigan coach John Beilein ever gets, on the sideline or behind closed doors.

It’s also the best advice he can give his players, in practice and in games.

Because when you’ve got a roster blessed with the kind of marksmen Beilein has now, it’s really all you need to say.

Friday night, it was just enough, as Michigan put on another first-half offensive clinic at Lucas Oil Stadium and then held on — barely — to beat Tennessee, 73-71, and advance to the Elite Eight.

They’ll face the winner of Friday night’s marquee game between Bluegrass State rivals Louisville and Kentucky in Sunday’s Midwest Regional final, with a chance to advance to the Final Four for a second consecutive season.

“I don’t know if we’re getting lucky or what we’re doing,” sophomore guard Nik Stauskas said. “We just seem to have a (knack) for pulling out games in the last couple minutes. Maybe that’s a little bit of our toughness or resiliency to get these wins.”

Maybe so, and they can probably thank another of those controversial block/charge calls late — this time it was Jordan Morgan drawing one on the Volunteers’ Jarnell Stokes in the waning seconds — for helping them escape.

Or maybe, instead of a stroke of good luck, it’s simply the sweet shooting stroke that staked them to another double-digit lead against a shell-shocked opponent.

Friday, it was nearly a repeat of the blistering they gave Texas, another team that came in hoping to assert its physical presence and left muttering about missed opportunities and blown whistles.

“We’re going to shoot well from 3 most every game,” said Beilein, whose team hit seven of nine in the first half and finished 11-for-20 from behind the arc. “That’s the hope. And usually when we make over 10 we’re in pretty good shape.”

They’re 9-0 when they do, in fact. And Friday, it was Caris LeVert who struck first, drilling a spot-up 3-pointer on his first try. Stauskas followed with a 3-pointer off a ball screen in transition on his initial attempt. And just for laughs, Derrick Walton Jr. pulled up and banked in a 23-footer on his first heave, smiling all the way to the bench as Michigan led by six at the first media timeout.

“We shoot a lot of 3s, but we kind of find the right spots and the time to shoot the 3,” Walton said. “I mean, we work on it a lot in practice. So it’s only right to go out and shoot them in the game.”

Sure, but off the backboard?

“I felt like a bodybuilder on that one,” Walton said, laughing. “I knew it was gonna go in. But I didn’t know it was going in off the glass.”

Rattled

Off the glass, off the bench. They can shoot from anywhere, at any moment. Freshman Zak Irvin, last year's Mr. Basketball in Indiana who played his prep games just down the road, jumped into the game and quickly knocked down a pair of threes. He'd finish 3-for-3 from three in just 11 minutes in relief.

“You can have great shooters,” Beilein said, “but when they can come off the bench and shoot like he does?”

Well, shoot, you know?

After a corner-pocket shot on the break gave Michigan its first double-digit lead, Stauskas wheeled and stared down the Volunteers’ cheering section. And the unspoken message was clear: How are you going to stop this?

“You saw that with Texas, too: We had a really balanced attack in that game,” said Stauskas, who finished with 14 points — one of four Wolverines in double figures. “That’s what makes it toughest for teams to guard you, when you’ve got four, five, six guys that are capable of scoring at any time. They don’t really know what to do with that.”

Indeed, the Vols were openly bickering about blown defensive switches — “We were kind of playing soft defense in the first half,” guard Josh Richardson grumbled afterward — and the Wolverines were picking them apart.

No punking out

By halftime, they’d put up 45 points — the most Tennessee had allowed by halftime all season — at a healthy clip of 1.41 points per possession. That’s understandable against, say, Coppin State.

But it wasn't supposed to happen like this against a team with a top-15 defense nationally, and one that seemed to have all the necessary tools to dismantle the bombs.

They're blessed with the kind length you need on the perimeter — led by Richardson, a 6-foot-6 guard — to close out on shooters like Stauskas and LeVert. And with bookend 260-pounders Jaronne Maymon and Stokes — McGary called him a "fridge on wheels" Thursday — the assumption was Michigan would get clobbered in the paint.

But Morgan's heard that before, right? Beilein said his senior captain took offense to the team even practicing double-teaming the post this week back in Ann Arbor, just in case they needed to do it against the Vols.

And just as he’d promised, Morgan responded with another solid effort Friday, finishing with game-highs in points (15) and rebounds (seven), then making that late defensive stop.

“We heard all week about they had mismatches and how we couldn’t guard them inside,” he said. “I guess people forgot we play in the Big Ten and we won the Big Ten outright. … We’re not about to get punked.”

Straight shooter, that guy. Just like the rest of them, really.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com
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Michigan guard Caris LeVert comes up with a steal in the second half. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News
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