Sweet! Wagner’s career day powers UM past Louisville
Indianapolis —It seemed like it was too much for Michigan.
Too many offensive rebounds and second-chance points allowed. Too much length and interior power to contend with.
Then Moritz Wagner and D.J. Wilson took over.
Wagner poured in a career-high 26 points and Wilson had four game-sealing free throws and a last-second block as seventh-seeded Michigan overcame a nine-point second-half deficit to oust No. 2 seed Louisville, 73-69, in a second-round NCAA Tournament game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Michigan (26-11) advances to the Sweet 16 for the third time in five years and marches on to Kansas City, Mo. The Wolverines will face No. 3 Oregon at 7 p.m. Thursday.
“We all love the big moment,” senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. said, “and tonight was D.J. and Moe’s night.”
Facing an eight-point deficit at halftime, Michigan coach John Beilein had one message for his team: Hit singles.
Wagner and Wilson (17 points) combated Louisville’s length and began to chip away in the second half, combining to score 10 points on close-range shots to keep Michigan close, 45-38, with 15:19 remaining.
Louisville (25-9) pulled ahead by nine twice and appeared on the cusp of breaking it open, but Michigan clawed right back in it with a 15-4 flurry. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zak Irvin (11 points) connected on back-to-back layups and Irvin capped it with a mid-range jumper as Michigan scored six straight to trim it to 47-44 with 12:39 to play.
Wilson continued the push by burying Michigan’s first 3-point attempt of the half. Abdur-Rahkman followed with two free throws and an offensive putback to give the Wolverines a 53-51 advantage at the 8:54 mark and their first lead since the opening minute of the game.
After Louisville managed to tie it at 55 on a driving layup by Tony Hicks, Wagner and Walton (10 points) hit consecutive 3-pointers and Wagner scored on another layup to put Michigan ahead, 63-57, with 4:58 to play.
“Moe just has the mentality of he's not scared in the moment, and I think you definitely saw that,” Wilson said. “Down the stretch, when he got the ball, he knew he was going to make a play, and we watched him.”
Louisville swung back with a Deng Adel layup and a Mangok Mathiang hook to make it a one-possession game, 64-61, with 2:33 left.
Wagner answered by splitting two free throws, scoring on a driving layup and drawing an offensive foul on Jaylen Johnson in the post to give Michigan a 67-61 advantage with 1:18 remaining.
Louisville tightened the game as Adel scored on a driving layup and a Michigan turnover on the inbounds pass led to a Donovan Mitchell layup, cutting it to 67-65 with 56 seconds to go.
But Walton, who struggled offensively throughout much of the game, countered on the ensuing possession and scored on a driving layup with 29 seconds remaining.
“I felt like every shot I shot today was a great shot, and I know Coach B would yell at me if I started to defer,” Walton said. “After they made play after play after play, I just told them I could bring it home and hit the shot. I hit the jump shot, and I hit the layup. He looked at me.
“I feed off those guys to give me so much confidence. I knew if I stopped shooting, they'd be mad at me.”
Over the final 17 seconds, Wilson sealed it by knocking down four pressure-packed free throws and blocking Mitchell’s last-second 3-pointer.
“Our play is kind of contagious out on the floor. I feed off his energy. He feeds off mine,” Wilson said of Wagner. “Down the stretch, when we pulled out the victory, I was as happy as I could have possibly be.”
Wilson opened with the hot hand and was Michigan’s lone source of offense in the first four minutes. He started the scoring with a mid-range jumper, soared in for a transition layup on outlet pass from Walton and followed with a hook shot in the paint as Louisville took an early 7-6 edge with 16:18 left in the first half.
Louisville’s length and interior power began to take its toll against Michigan. Johnson scored on a driving layup, Mathiang got deep in the paint for a three-point play and Adel drained a 3-pointer to push Louisville’s lead to 15-8 at the 14:22 mark.
Irvin and Mark Donnal each hit a 3-pointer to pull Michigan within three at 17-14 but then the Wolverines went cold. Michigan missed its next six straight field goals attempts and went roughly five minutes without scoring a point as Louisville began adding some separation.
Wagner snapped drought with a spin move and layup and got loose for another layup to cut the deficit to 21-18 with 7:16 left in the half. Louisville was mired in its own four-minute scoring drought at the time that ended with a one-handed, posterizing dunk by Adel over Wilson in transition to push its lead to five at the 5:23 mark.
Wagner continued to be assertive in the post, scoring on another driving layup to tie it at 28 and draw a roaring cheer from the Michigan fans with 1:40 remaining.
But Louisville closed on an 8-0 over the final 1:10 to put the Wolverines in a 36-28 hole at the break, leading to Beilein’s halftime message and adjustments that helped change the game.
"We're going to do everything we can to win this whole thing,” Beilein said. “We have to have that belief in ourselves that we can play with a lot of people and I don't even know who is next, but I know we're going to go into this thing not content with what we've done. We’ve got more to do."
Michigan vs. Oregon
What: Michigan vs. Oregon in a semifinal of the Midwest Region.
When: 7:09 p.m. Thursday
TV/radio: CBS/WWJ 950
Seedings/records: No. 7 Michigan 26-11, No. 3 Oregon 31-5
At stake: Spot in Midwest Region final against Kansas-Purdue winner.