Michigan 'grits' its way past Florida State, into Final Four
Los Angeles — Before the Wolverines left the locker room Saturday, Michigan coach John Beilein wrote a single word on the dry erase board.
It turned out to be a fitting description and foreshadowed third-seeded Michigan’s scrappy 58-54 win over No. 9 seed Florida State in the West Region final at Staples Center.
“Coach (Beilein) knew it was going to be a dogfight,” said freshman forward Isaiah Livers, whose maize jersey was stained with blood after getting popped in the nose late in the game. “This literally proves it.”
The Wolverines shot 38.8 percent (19-for-38) from the field and 18.2 percent (4-for-22) from 3-point range, finished with more turnovers (11) than assists (eight), and missed four critical free throws in the final 1:38.
But as Michigan has done all season long, it relied on its tenacious defense when the offense was lacking and clamped down on Florida State, holding the Seminoles to a season lows in points scored and field-goal percentage (31.4 percent) to muscle its way to its second Final Four appearance in six seasons and eighth in program history.
Michigan will ride its 13-game win streak to San Antonio where it will face No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago (32-5), who won the South Region, in a national semifinal next Saturday. The game will be televised on TBS; tip-off time has yet to be announced.
“I've never seen a team work so hard and be so connected on both ends of the floor, even when things do not go right on the offensive end,” Beilein said. “They were exceptional on defense.”
Charles Matthews finished with 17 points and eight rebounds and Moritz Wagner added 12 points despite a rough 3-for-11 shooting night (0-for-7 on 3-pointers) for Michigan (32-7), which set a program record for wins in a season.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Wagner and Matthews were named to the All-West Region team with Matthews earning Most Outstanding Player honors. They were joined by Florida State's Terance Mann and Phil Cofer.
Cofer recorded 16 points and 12 rebounds and PJ Savoy scored 12 but missed a potential tying 3-pointer in the final minute for Florida State, whose string of upsets in the NCAA Tournament came to an end when its late charge was thwarted. The Seminoles also finished with one more made field goal (16) than turnovers (15).
“I think the really good teams win in different ways,” Michigan fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson said. “Shots aren't always going to fall, but you can always count on your energy, your effort and your defense. We were able to bring that tonight and I thought that was the difference.”
After Robinson appeared to deliver the knockout blow with a corner 3-pointer that capped a 7-0 flurry and put Michigan ahead 54-44 with 2:25 to play, its lead dwindled to three at the 1:16 mark after Savoy made three free throws and knocked down a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions.
Abdur-Rahkman missed the front end of a one-and-one to give Florida State a chance to tie it, but Savoy misfired on a 3-pointer with 56 seconds left.
The Wolverines corralled the rebound and Zavier Simpson was eventually fouled and sent to the line, where he split two free throws to give Michigan a 56-52 advantage with 39 seconds left.
Florida State stayed close and Cofer scored on an offensive putback to make it 56-54 with 24 seconds left, but Robinson nailed two free throws and Michigan got one final stop on contested a desperation 3-pointer by Savoy to stave off the Seminoles.
“It came down to heart, how badly do we want. I feel like that was on everybody’s mindset,” said Simpson, who finished with nine points and five assists, highlighted by his drive and dish on Robinson's late 3-pointer.
“I always dreamed of (reaching the Final Four), but I didn't think it would be possible to come true just because I'm not sure. I dream of a lot of things, but some dreams can be very severe and you just know they're not going happen. This is one of them. I'm glad to be in the positon we’re in. Hopefully we can continue to make history.”
Over the first seven minutes of the game, it didn’t look like a tense finish would be in the cards. Michigan got off to a strong start on both ends and opened up a 15-10 lead behind eight points from Matthews.
Things quickly changed, though, and the scoring pace proved to be unsustainable as the Seminoles’ length and quickness began to neutralize the Wolverines’ offense. Michigan hit a four-minute scoring drought and Florida State took advantage with seven straight points to spark a 13-4 run to go on top, 23-19, at the 6:16 mark.
Despite missing 10 of its final 12 shots and committing more turnovers (eight) than made baskets (seven), Michigan still managed to take a 27-26 lead into the break thanks to 14 first-half turnovers by Florida State.
The Wolverines opened the second half on an 11-2 run to create some separation, 38-28, with 14:30 to go. Then after Cofer scored on a layup at the 10:00 mark, Michigan held Florida State without a field goal for nearly eight minutes before it found a way to dig deep, grind out another tournament win and move one step closer to the national title.
“It's kind of crazy for me, or for all of us, I think, because we worked so hard,” Wagner said. “As a journey, we worked so hard for three years…And you look at the next step in the journey, and sometimes you forget to look at the ultimate goal.
“Now you're so close, and you're actually going to the Final Four. I'm incredibly grateful to be part of such an amazing group.”
Michigan vs. Loyola Chicago
Tip-off: Saturday, 6:09 p.m., Alamodome, San Antonio
TV/radio: TBS/950 AM
Records: No. 3 seed Michigan 32-7; No. 11 seed Loyola Chicago 32-5
Up next: Winner advances to Monday’s national championship game against Villanova-Kansas winner.