Michigan escapes, heads to first Final Four since 2013

Geoff Robinson
The Detroit News
Florida State guard M.J. Walker (23) defends a shot by Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12) in the first half.

It wasn't pretty on the offensive end, but Michigan used a suffocating defense to hold Florida State at bay and move on to the Final Four for the first time since 2013 with a 58-54 win Saturday night in Los Angeles.

For their efforts, the Wolverines will play America's enemy when they square off with cinderella Loyola-Chicago next week in San Antonio.

How it went down: The Seminoles cut the Michigan lead to three with 1:10 on the clock, and after Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman missed the front end of a one-and-one, PJ Savoy missed a chance to tie from beyond the arc. With 39 seconds on the clock, Zavier Simpson split a pair at the line. FSU missed two shots from beyond the arc, but they got a tap-in to cut the Michigan lead to 56-54 with 20 seconds remaining. That's when Duncan Robinson hit two big free throws to push the lead back to four. A tough 3-point attempt from the Seminoles went off the rim, and that was all she wrote.

Charles Matthews played a big role as Michigan's main offensive weapon, going for a game-high 17 points.

The defense suffocated the Seminoles all night long, forcing 15 turnovers that led to 12 points. That playmaking on that side of the ball helped the Wolverines build a 12-0 advantage in fast break points.

Moe Wagner (12 points) went 0-for-7 from beyond the arc, but he made a few big plays in the paint late in the second half. That seemed to put a charge into an offense that couldn't find the stroke from deep that it had in the Sweet 16. As a team, Michigan finished 4-for-22 from 3-point range.

Phil Cofer was FSU's leading scorer with 16.

Wolverines make the big plays to build lead

Charles Matthews hit a fadeaway jumper in the lane, Michigan got a big stop and Zavier Simpson came back with a drive to the bucket to push Michigan's lead to seven. On the next possession, Simpson found Duncan Robinson for a corner 3-pointer that makes it 54-44 with 2:22 remaining.

No-call goes FSU's way

Charles Matthews appeared to have legitimate beef when the refs didn't call goaltending on a fast break. The ball got back down the court in a hurry, and it proved to be a costly exchange for the Wolverines, as Moe Wagner was called for his fourth personal foul. Wagner was shown the bench, and on the back of four consecutive free throws, FSU has cut the Michigan lead to 45-42 with 6:00 on the clock.

Wagner gets a pair of big buckets

Moe Wagner may have picked up his second and third fouls in a span of eight seconds, but the big man made up for it on the offensive end with back-to-back baskets that included an and-1 and stretched Michigan's lead to 45-38 with 8:52 remaining.

Seminoles push back

FSU was able to reel off six straight as Michigan's offense started to go cold again. The Wolverines went more than four minutes without scoring until Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was able to get inside for a scoop and score.

At the 10:00 mark of the second half, Michigan leads 40-36.

Moe Wagner continues to struggle. He's 0-for-6 from beyond the arc and just 1-for-8 from the field. This game is as gritty as they come. The first team to 60 will probably punch their ticket to the Final Four.

Wolverines keep cooking

The defense is playing better than it played in the first half (and that's saying a lot) and Michigan is on an 11-0 run since FSU scored on the first possession of the second half.

The Seminoles aren't allowing the guards of FSU to get any penetration into the lane. That's forcing the Seminoles to go inside to big men that just aren't finishing near the rim.

With 13:50 to play, Michigan leads 38-28.

Michigan turns it on to start 2nd half

Moe Wagner got his first field goal of the game when Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman found him on a nice drive to the basket that drew the shot-blockers away from Michigan's big man. Charles Matthews delivered a 3-pointer from the wing, and the Wolverine defense has continued to force tough shots by Florida State's offense.

At the 15:49 mark of the second half, Michigan has a 34-28 lead and is on a 7-0 run.

The Seminoles started the half by feeding Christ Koumadje, who went 1-for-3 on the first three possessions of the half.

Wolverines grab slim lead at the half

Michigan's defense has forced 14 Florida State turnovers in the first half, but FSU's shot-blocking ability has been the great equalizer, and these teams are locked in a battle that the Wolverines lead at the half, 27-26..

Michigan is shooting just 2-for-10 from beyond the arc, a big drop-off from their 3-point clinic they put on Texas A&M in the Sweet 16. The Seminoles defense (5 blocks) seems to have gotten into the heads of Michigan's offensive playmakers.

That said, Charles Matthews has led the offensive charge for the Wolverines with a game-high 10.

As expected, FSU had held an advantage in bench points, 11-0, as 10 Seminoles have seen playing time in the first half. That kind of depth will keep the legs fresh in the second half, something to keep in mind if this game goes down to the wire.

Phil Cofer leads FSU with seven points, a good sign for Leonard Hamilton's squad, as their leading scorer from the regular season has struggled to get going in the tournament's first three rounds.

UM, FSU locked in physical battle

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman got Michigan off the snide from downtown with a 3-ball that cut FSU's lead to one. On the ensuing Seminoles possession, it was the Wolverines turn to show off their defense by forcing a shot-clock violation and FSU's 10th turnover of the game. After two Charles Matthews free throws, Michigan has taken a 24-23 lead with 4:55 remaining in the first half.

FSU's defense starting to frustrate Wolverines

While Michigan has started just 1-for-7 from beyond the arc, PJ Savoy has hit a pair from deep to get an otherwise sloppy FSU offense going. Duncan Robinson was called for a Flagrant foul after he was fouled and his hand came up as a reaction and swiped a Seminoles player across the face. The ensuing free throws staked FSU its first lead of the night, and that's where we stand at the 9:31 mark, with the Seminoles leading 17-15.

Defense is the name of the game

PJ Savoy hit a 3-pointer for FSU, but it was Charles Matthews with another and-1 answer to push Michigan back out in front. Both defenses are causing the opposing offenses fits, as the Seminoles have turned the ball over five times, compared to four from the Maize and Blue.

At the 11:45 mark, the Wolverines have a 15-10 lead.

Matthews has a game-high eight points.

Wolverines get out to an early lead

FSU got on the board first, but Charles Matthews answered with an and-1 slam on the other end. After the teams exchanged empty possessions, Zavier Simpson ripped the ball away from a Seminoles player and went full steam ahead the other way for a lay-in to spot Michigan a 5-2 lead. Simpson picked up his first personal foul, leading to two FSU free throws, but the Seminoles returned the favor when 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje picked up his second foul. The Michigan defense has started to find itself to the tune of three turnovers, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman hit from beyond the arc to get things really cooking heading into the first media timeout.

At the 15:35 mark, the Wolverines have a 10-4 lead.

Michigan poised to punch its ticket to San Antonio

To those that didn't pay attention earlier in the college basketball season, this run by John Beilein's team has come out of nowhere, an unlikely story just two short months ago.

But now there are expectations.

The Wolverines are squaring off against the 9-seed Florida State Seminoles for the right to head to the Final Four in San Antonio next weekend, and they are expected to win.

If Michigan shows up shooting the ball like they did on Thursday against Texas A&M, then they are unbeatable. But even if that doesn't happen, their defense has proven good enough to keep the team in games even when the offense in anemic.

The biggest problem the Seminoles pose tonight is their depth. This is a team that will probably run 12 players out on the floor, keeping legs fresh and allowing the team to play aggressive without much thought to foul trouble. If they can hang around until the game's final minutes, there's a possibility their fresher legs could be the difference.

The straws that stir the drink for the Wolverines are Zavier Simpson, Moe Wagner and Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman. All three showed up in a big way in the Sweet 16. It will be up to FSU's athleticism on the defensive end to contain those guys and force the role players (we're looking at you, Jordan Poole) to step up and make plays.


Michigan vs. Florida State

Tip-off: 8:49 p.m. Saturday, Staples Center, Los Angeles

TV/radio: TBS/950 AM

Records: No. 3 seed Michigan 31-7; No. 9 seed Florida State 23-11

Up next: Winner advances to Final Four vs. Loyola Chicago-Kansas State winner.


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