INDIANAPOLIS—As the game turned: With two minutes and change to play, the rim was shaking yet again.
Michigan's Jordan Morgan had just thrown down another uncontested jam — his fourth of the game — giving the Wolverines a 72-64 advantage in Friday's Sweet 16 matchup. The dunk halted a 19-8 Volunteer run and appeared to put the final dagger in Tennessee's emphatic surge through the 2014 NCAA tournament.
Jordan McRae answered with an old fashioned three-point play. Josh Richardson canned a mid-range jumper and after U-M's third turnover in a little more than a minute, McRae delivered again with a driving baseline lay-up.
Suddenly, the Vols had trimmed a multiple possession deficit down to just a single point at 72-71 with 10.8 seconds remaining. Naturally, UT geared up to foul the Wolverines on inbounds play — creating a worst case scenario where the Vols would need a last-second three pointer to force overtime.
Again, not quite.
Nik Stauskas ran the baseline, looking for anyone in yellow that was remotely open. He locked in on teammate Derrick Walton Jr., who cleanly snagged the inbounds pass despite having UT freshman Darius Thompson firmly locked on his hip
But as Walton Jr. pivoted and looked to push up the court, he stepped out of bounds, presenting the Vols with yet another gift in the final moments.
"We sped them up and they started making turnovers," Thompson said of the late-game surge. "We were playing good defense at the time."
Those in orange were ecstatic. After clawing back from a once 15-point deficit, the momentum had finally swung in UT's favor.
Then, in a matter of seconds it was all zapped away.
With 9.6 seconds left, there was no doubt who the play was called for. Jarnell Stokes caught the ball and drove hard. Morgan stepped in front. Both men stumbled, and the whistle quickly sounded.
"They made a call to give you an exact answer," UT head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "I have to go back and watch film, but (Morgan) was moving. Both guys were moving."
"(Martin) wanted me to drive the ball strong," Stokes added "With the new (and stricter foul) rules I had no idea that (a charge) could potentially happen. If I had known, I would've made a double move.
"(I'm) kind of sick about it but it's already done. I definitely would've spinned or put the ball behind my back and went left if I would've known he was trying to take a charge. There's no way with the new rules I thought that could happen."
Hardly above a whisper, the junior forward repeated himself.
Hot topic: The charity stripe had hardly been an issue.
Coming in to Friday's contest, the Vols' were shooting 83 percent from the line in their three NCAA tournament games — each of one of those included at least 23 made free throws and 26 attempts.
Friday night was a different story.
UT struggled at the line, going 8-of-14 (57 percent) — its worst percentage since a 9-of-17 (53 percent) outing in a 67-58 home loss to Florida on Feb. 11.
No one struggled more than McRae, who missed a free throw on each of his first five trips to the charity stripe.
"I missed a whole lot of free throws throughout the game," an emotional McRae said in the locker room postgame.
"Maybe if I don't miss them we get a win."
Spotlight: Although senior Antonio Barton boasted the most NCAA tournament experience on the Vols' roster by a wide margin, it was Thompson who directed the UT offense down the stretch.
With 14:19 to go in the game, Thompson subbed in for a struggling Barton, and the rookie nearly went the remaining distance.
"When I was in I was just being productive," said Thompson who had three points, a pair of assists and just two turnovers in 26 total minutes.
"I felt like I was helping the team out, so I guess I got my chance to play."
Meanwhile, after knocking down UT's first shot just 47 seconds in, Barton didn't muster up another point the rest of the evening.
The other guys: Morgan led the Wolverines with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Nik Stauskas (14 points), Glenn Robinson III (13 points) and Caris Lavert (10 points) all reached double-digits as well.
Outside the box score: Stokes' six rebounds were his lowest in a game since he matched that total in UT's 81-74 victory over Arkansas on Jan. 22.
Say something: Morgan on constantly hearing about UT's advantage in the post all week: "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."
By the numbers:
3: McRae outrebounded Stokes in the first half, 3-2.
0: UT had zero second-chance points in the opening 20 minutes.
28: In the second half, the Vols outscored U-M 28-12 in the paint.
Up next: The Vols' season ended with the loss.