Sports Journalism Blog

By Derek Harper | @RealDerekHarper

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS – When Juwan Howard stopped this time in the handshake line, on his way to the Sweet 16 with his Michigan Wolverines, he comforted a crushed opponent the way he would hold his son.

Tennessee freshman Kennedy Chandler, after the 76-68 Michigan victory that may have ended his college career, buried his face in Howard’s right shoulder and then dropped his head into Howard’s chest. Howard’s right hand cradled the back of Chandler’s head, and then rested on his left shoulder.

“He said to keep my head up,” Chandler said. “It’s tough for me, and he knew I wanted to get the win. I know him. I’ve played with his son since, like, fourth grade. So I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a great coach. I love him. He told me to keep my head up and you played your heart out, that’s what he told me.”

Michigan (19-14), the 11th seed, advanced to a South Region semifinal game against Villanova or Ohio State on Thursday at San Antonio. The Wolverines advanced to the Sweet 16 for a fifth consecutive tournament, the second-longest current streak behind Gonzaga’s seven trips. Michigan’s 22nd tournament win since 2013 is the most in the nation in that period.

Michigan, which has won six of its last 11 games, won a second straight game for the first time since February 10. That was 10 days before the confrontation in the handshake line following a loss at Wisconsin that led to a five-game suspension for Howard and disrupted Michigan’s season.

Sophomore center Hunter Dickinson scored 27 points on 8-of-13 shooting, with 11 rebounds and four assists. Graduate guard Eli Brooks scored 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting, five assists and three rebounds. Freshman forward Moussa Diabate picked up 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting, with six rebounds.

Michigan had to overcome the loss of graduate point guard DeVante Jones, who returned from a concussion that kept him out of the first-round victory, but was limited to two points in 11:35 in the first half. Without Jones, Michigan committed 15 turnovers that led to 20 Tennessee points.

Tennessee (27-8) fell to 7-9 in second round games and 23-25 in its NCAA history. The third-seeded Volunteers, who earned their second-highest seeding, had hoped to reach a regional championship game for just the second time. They were led by Chandler, who scored 19 points on 9-of-19 shooting, with nine assists, four rebounds and two steals.

“Kennedy is an elite player, and he’s one of the best guards in the country,” Howard said. “I got a chance to know Kenny back when my youngest son, Jett, and Kennedy played in AAU, and they won the LeBron James tournament in Ohio. So, we had a relationship back then. Just watching his growth, I’ve always been impressed. We recruited him, unfortunately, we wasn’t that lucky, but to see the output, the effort, the growth and being able to produce like that on the floor and how he led his team in a special way. I gave him words of encouragement. It shows his emotion, that he cares. As coaches, you appreciate that.”

Josiah-Jordan James was the only other Tennessee player to score in double figures, with 13 points, three assists and six rebounds.

Tennessee had shot 35.9% from 3-point range this season and made 48% Thursday against Longwood. Against Michigan, the Volunteers made two of 18 attempts, or 11.1%, but shot just 9% from three against Michigan.

Wolverine sophomore forward Terrance Williams II said defending the perimeter was an emphasis.

“That was mostly in the game plan, guarding the perimeter,” Williams said. “They had shooters, their guard play, (Santiago) Vescovi is definitely a big shooter. But one of the game plans was to guard the 3-point line. I felt like we did our job today in guarding that 3-point line. They went two for 18, and I think we did our part.”

Michigan will have the chance Thursday to reach the Elite Eight for the fifth time since 2013. They’re tied for most Elite Eight appearances in the country since 2013 with Gonzaga, Kentucky and Duke.

It’s a tough end to the season for Tennessee, which reached the NCAA tournament for the 24th time in school history and won the Southeastern Conference tournament last Sunday.

“It’s really tough,” James said. “We know that we had bigger expectations, but credit to Michigan. They played better basketball for forty minutes. I think you can’t — everybody in that locker room deserves to put their head high for what we were able to do this season. It definitely hurts. It’s not a good feeling being up here right now on the losing end. You’ve just got to grow from it, is how you respond to losses. I’m going to miss being around this group of guys for sure.”