Florida State’s late-game strategy puzzles Michigan

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Michigan guard Charles Matthews reacts with Michigan guard Jordan Poole in the second half.

Los Angeles – When fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson corralled a defensive rebound with 13 seconds left and Michigan up four, he was expecting to be fouled.

Probably everyone else in Staples Center did, too.

Well, everybody except for Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton, who opted to let the clock run out on the game and the No. 9 seed Seminoles’ season as third-seeded Michigan prevailed, 58-54, in the West Region final on Saturday.

“I was a little surprised, to be honest with you,” Robinson said. “I thought there was less time, but they chose not to foul. I'm not entirely sure. I'd have to go back and look at it to get a better understanding.”

It was a head-scratching move considering a foul would’ve stopped the clock and sent Michigan to the line, where the Wolverines were 16-for-24 on the night and had four misses in the final 1:38 – two apiece by senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and sophomore guard Zavier Simpson.

More: Niyo: Beilein, Michigan take high road to Final Four

And granted, there’s no guarantee Robinson, a 90-percent free-throw shooter, would’ve missed or the game would’ve been prolonged, but crazier things have happened. Just ask Louisville, which blew a four-point lead to Virginia with 0.9 seconds left earlier this month.

When asked postgame by TBS sideline reporter Dana Jacobson why he didn’t elect to foul in the final seconds, Hamilton shot her a puzzled looked before saying, “What are you talking about? You think the game came down the final seconds in the end? The game was over.”

However, it wasn’t the only questionable decision down the stretch. After Florida State used its final timeout with 2:15 to go, PJ Savoy drained a 3-pointer to pull the Seminoles within 55-52 at the 1:16 mark.

With Hamilton unable to gather his team and talk strategy down the stretch, the Seminoles let 10 seconds tick off the clock before Savoy sent Abdur-Rahkman to the line, where he missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Savoy put up a 3-point shot early in the shot clock on the other end that missed the mark and Michigan grabbed the rebound. Then 17 more seconds ran off before Florida State fouled Simpson to stop the clock.

After Simpson split the two free throws to make it 56-52 with 39 seconds left, Florida State couldn’t connect on a layup and pair of deep 3-pointers before the teams traded points and Michigan grabbed its final defensive board.

“There was one situation where we thought it was best not to foul because we thought that we could get the ball back and still have an opportunity to score, because it seemed like there were like 15 seconds difference in the shot clock, if we could just hold them,” Hamilton said of his team’s decision-making when it was down 55-52 with 1:16 to go.  “It might have been a one- or two-point game at that point. Maybe a two-point game. And we thought if we stopped them, we'd have an opportunity to come down and score.

“Hindsight is always 20/20. … It's very easy to micro-evaluate when the game's over. You can go back and really try to dissect it and see what you could have done. But there are no absolutes.”

Six for success

The Wolverines improved to 28-0 this season when Robinson scores at least six points in a game.

And make no mistake, Robinson has heard plenty about the streak.

“People are always in my ear about it,” said Robinson, who finished with seven points in 31 minutes. “The coaches’ kids are always like, 'Just score six points, just score six points.' I guess it is that easy. It's kind of an arbitrary number.

“I don't really know how it all checks out, but someone is crunching the numbers on that and I guess we're undefeated, so I'll keep trying to score six.”

Slam dunks

There was a sea of maize and blue at Staples Center for Saturday’s Elite Eight matchup and it was arguably the loudest pro-Michigan crowd of any road or neutral-site game this season.

“I felt like we were in Ann Arbor,” Beilein said.

… Abdur-Rahkman tied Jordan Morgan (2011-14) and Zak Irvin (2014-17) for most games played in program history at 142.

… Michigan won for just the third time while scoring less than 60 points and second time while making less than five 3-pointers this season.

… Former basketball star Rudy Tomjanovich and Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard were among the Michigan greats on hand for the game.


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.