Michigan survives stressful finish to beat Tennessee


Michigan 73, Tennessee 71-26
Dustin Johnston

INDIANAPOLIS — The lead was blown. The game had been slipping through Michigan’s fingertips like so many grains of sand for the latter half of the second half, and in the final two minutes the Wolverines threw what little sand they still held into the air, LeBron James-style.

Michigan had once held a 15-point lead, but that deficit had shrunk slowly as the second half had worn on. After a 10-2 Tennessee run midway through the half, Michigan committed some bad turnovers. The Volunteers closed the gap even more with a late 7-2 run and suddenly Michigan’s lead was down to five points.

First, Jordan Morgan bobbled a pass from Derrick Walton as he rolled to basket. It should have been an easy dunk, instead it was Tennessee ball. On Michigan’s next trip down the floor, the offense stalled and Glenn Robinson III wasn’t able to get a shot off as the shot clock expired.

And then there were the out-of-bounds plays. Good Lord, the out-of-bounds plays.

After the game, Michigan coach John Beilein said he had never in his whole coaching career experienced the situation Michigan faced at the end of its eventual 73-71 victory over Tennessee Friday night. Four consecutive out-of-bounds plays, all under the opposing team’s basket, all dead ball situations.

“We went with a scheme three times and then we changed it. What we learned from that is we had timeouts,” Beilein said in a very relieved Michigan locker room after the game. “Spike (Albrecht) threw the ball to people when they were in trouble. … He just wanted to get rid of it. We need to be stronger there. Pressure has never been a problem with us, but that’s a difficult situation.”

A difficult situation, indeed. The situation called for anticipating what sort of press defense Tennessee would throw at Michigan, figuring out where they would trap and with whom, and drawing up a play to counter-balance that. That’s a lot for a coach to process during a timeout. Sometimes, according to his players, Beilein gets a little stressed.

We asked Derrick Walton what Beilein is like in those huddles late in games, with Michigan clinging to a lead.

“He’s kind of frantic,” Walton replied. “But we as players try to do a good job of calming him down and go out there and make the right play.”

Is Beilein freaking out in the huddle?

“A little bit,” Walton conceded with a smile. “But you kind of expect him to do that, giving up a lead like that. Us players try to do a good job of calming him down.”

Michigan’s myriad of turnovers in the closing minutes likely didn’t do much for Beilein’s timeout composure. The Wolverines turned the ball over four times in the final two minutes and scored one point. If there is a recipe for letting a team back into a basketball game, that is it.

All of the Wolverines’ late out-of-bounds plays were dead-ball situations, which meant that Spike Albrecht couldn’t run along the baseline. Albrecht is Michigan’s best inbounder, but he’s also only six feet tall. Given that he usually has a 6-foot-6 wing disrupting his view on these plays, not being able to move around makes his job exponentially more difficult.

“It’s tough at times. Usually it’s not that bad if I can run, but today I couldn’t run, and I was like, you gotta be kidding me,” Albrecht said after the game. “They were doing a little — I don’t even know what it was — it was like a triangle. They were kind of baiting you into throwing a pass. He looked over for a second, but I didn’t want to burn a timeout. I probably made some passes I would like to take back, but that’s alright.”

The stressful nature of the final minutes of Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen win over Tennessee caused some information overload from Beilein during timeouts. But Albrecht said he and the rest of the players were used to it.

“We kind of let him go on his spiel there and then we kind of have to huddle up again after,” Albrecht said, grinning a bit recalling his coach’s demeanor. “Because obviously it’s nerve-racking, especially at the end of the game. He’s got so much to say and but it’s like, we only got a minute in this timeout. That’s what he does.

“That’s the type of coach he is,” Albrecht continued. “Even in practice. His brain’s running a mile a minute out there. But he does a great job, and our assistants to a great job too of adding input and kind of calming him down a little bit.”

You would think, with the practice Michigan has had this season at pulling out close games, that Beilein would be a bit calmer in timeouts down the stretch. The Wolverines are now 9-2 in games decided by five points or fewer. That includes wins over such teams as Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska, Florida State and a particularly exciting victory at Purdue.

For whatever reason, in late game situations, Michigan finds a way to execute. Many of the players have attributed this to the fact that most of them were on last season’s team that went to the national championship game — they may be young, but they’ve been on the biggest stage.

“We are a young team, but we have a lot of guys who played a lot of minutes,” Albrecht said. “We’ve had a lot of games like that. I mean, how many games have we had under five points? It’s bizarre, but I think we’ve grown a lot as a team.”

Now, Michigan finds itself on a big stage once again, with many of the players who played bit roles last year suddenly learning how to carry the team. Jordan Morgan, who last year took the biggest charge of his career against Syracuse in the Final Four, did his best to match it with a late drawn charge on Tennessee’s final offensive possession. That play effectively sealed the game and sent Michigan into the Elite Eight for the second straight season.

For now, Beilein will just have to go with the flow — stressful timeouts and all. Because even though Michigan isn’t entirely sure what it’s doing to win all these close games, it’s winning them.

“Somehow, I don’t know how, we keep pulling them out,” Albrecht said.

“And that’s all that matters.”

  • a2sk

    Ouch – a little too honest description of what goes on in the huddle late in a tight game.

  • AADave

    Beilein’s human. Who knew?

    Michigan needs to fix the inbounding problem pronto. Otherwise, they’re toast going forward. I don’t know why it’s such a difficult problem to solve but I’m not an expert. It’s especially puzzling since Beilein’s Michigan teams have typically been one of the best teams in the country at avoiding turnovers.

    The play on GR3 at the end of the shot clock was simply phenomenal defense by Tennessee. He evaded the first defender but the help defender blocks the shot with superb athleticism.

    Otherwise, Michigan let them get back in the game with missed shots, poor defensive rebounding and unforced turnovers near the end. And the refs gave Tennessee a big assist as well with questionable blocking calls and the obvious reviewed but still missed out of bounds call.

    Michigan shouldn’t have let Tennessee come all the way back but a big part of the comeback was a natural momentum shift. It happens in almost every game no matter how good or bad the opponent. Such is the nature of college
    basketball or basketball in general.

    • Mith

      Can’t agree with you that the team is “toast” if they don’t fix the inbounding problem. If that was the case, the season should be over by now, right?

    • countourzealous

      It’s a game in March. Things won’t always go your way, but the important thing is advancing. We’ve been a great inbounding team all year, but Beilein pointed out that you rarely have to execute four or five consecutive deadball inbound plays like that.

      • Champswest

        We are not a great inbounding team. There have been many discussions here about that very issue.

        • countourzealous

          I don’t think our inbounding is so atrocious that it merits extra practice time. Honestly, I’m not sure why Spike was inbounding when it was a dead ball. He said himself that he couldn’t run, and that made it difficult for him. There’s no rule against using alternate inbounders is there?

  • sshow

    Yeah, I felt like the players were a little almost critical of Beilein. In Derrick’s interview the reporter asks in a puzzled voice something like “Beilein?” in reference coach being frantic. Seems odd given what we know about coach. Of course, who can blame the man in a situation like last night.

    • Mattski

      More bemused, is how I took it. Sort of like students sorting out what the brilliant prof’s instructions actually were.

  • Wayman Britt

    Very interesting article. From watching on TV it always looks like Beilein is calm in the huddle. I think he normally is, but with the way UM faltered down the stretch last night it got him frantic along with the rest of us.

  • Mattski

    Beilein is one of those very very bright characters whose brain sometimes hurtles along several blocks ahead of him–you note that in press conferences, where he’s sometimes pretty distracted. I’ve seen the players huddling up on the court after the huddle a bunch of times, sorting out what he said, what their individual assignments are. It’s all good! SO curious to see what he draws up for Kentucky.

  • guestavo

    JMO got robbed out DPOY. The tournament has validated this.

  • jakelam2116

    Very interesting insights from the players about Beilein, that’s for sure.

  • Picknroll21

    Quote from Nick Baumgardener’s article on m live:

    “After calling a timeout during the circus that was the final minute
    of Michigan’s 73-71 win over Tennessee on Friday in the Sweet 16,
    Albrecht waited for Michigan coach John Beilein to give instruction in
    the huddle before re-huddling the group on the court with a pretty clear
    “Get your a*s open,” Albrecht barked.”
    Pretty good strategy for getting the ball in!

  • Champswest

    I was thinking this morning about the inbounds problems last night. The thought occurred, what if they had used Mitch as the inbound or the receiver. He has good hands and good passing ability, plus he is 10 inches taller than Spike and taller than any guy on Tennessee. It might have been a problem if he was fouled and had to shoot free throws. I wonder if Beilein considered it?