Wolverines player talks about his 17-point performance in team's 69-57 Final Four victory over the Ramblers. Matt Charboneau
San Antonio – Michigan’s victory over Loyola-Chicago on Saturday in the national semifinals will go down as the night Moritz Wagner dominated, carrying the Wolverines to a 69-57 victory and a spot in the national championship game.
The Michigan junior had a double-double by halftime, finishing with 24 points and a career-high 15 rebounds as the Wolverines dispatched of the Ramblers and will take on Villanova for a chance at their second national title.
But it was fitting that the exclamation point came from Charles Matthews when the sophomore hammered in a two-handed dunk with 1:34 remaining and Michigan ahead by 10 points. Fitting because, while Wagner was great, Matthews was nearly as good.
As he did a week ago in the regional final victory over Florida State, Matthews was effective getting in the lane and finishing at the basket. He scored 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting and grabbed five rebound while handing out one crucial assist, hitting Wagner for a 3-pointer in the Wolverines’ decisive 12-0 run in the second half.
“I was just trying to help my team win, do whatever I can to help the team win,” Matthews said. “I’m trying to get Coach B a national title, that’s my goal. That’s why I want to win.”
As much as coach John Beilein is deserving of getting another shot at that championship, he’s fortunate to have Matthews playing some of his best basketball and the right time. The former transfer from Kentucky has scored in double figures in all five NCAA Tournament games and is averaging 16.6 points a game over that stretch.
While he opened Saturday’s game with a 3-pointer, he’s been his most effective and attacking the basket. He did that against the Ramblers, consistently getting in the lane and making things happen for the Wolverines.
“He was great,” senior Duncan Robinson said. “We are at our best when he is really aggressive; tonight was no different. He as a big reason why we came out with a win.”
It was especially important in the first half when Michigan shot 29 percent, making just 9-of-31 shots.
“I think it was one those games where the shot wasn’t falling,” Matthews said. “We had some open looks and whatnot, but they were staying solid on a lot of our stuff. I feel we play similar offensively, moving the ball and a lot of stuff that they’re probably familiar with as well.
“This time of year it’s a make-or-miss game and we were able make some shots later on.”
The Wolverines knew they were going to need to make their share of shots against the Ramblers. The champions of the Missouri Valley Conference had the Cinderella label this season, but Matthews said there was never any thought that things would somehow be easy for the Wolverines.
“We don't get into those headlines about this team,” Matthews said. “We just come out here and play basketball. We never looked at the team as a Cinderella team. It's like 300-something Division I teams, and they're one of the last four standing. That's no Cinderella story. We respected them and we knew we had to come out and execute against them.
“It’s the Final Four. These are the best four teams. These games are not meant to be easy, not meant to be a cakewalk or a walk in the park and we understand that.”
It will be the same thing on Monday as Michigan tries to keep Villanova from winning its second national championship in three years.
The Wolverines will have a far better shot with Wagner and Matthews hitting on all cylinders, much as they did against Loyola-Chicago on Saturday.
“Coach just told us to be ready to be in a boxing match and to keep fighting for the ball,” Matthews said. “We had to continue to be aggressive and get stops and we were able to do that.
“I just wanted to come out here and be able to help our team win this game and we get to keep dancing.”
Michigan vs. Villanova
Tip-off: 9:20 p.m. Monday, Alamodome, San Antonio
TV/radio: TBS/WWJ 950
Records: No. 3 seed Michigan 33-7, No. 1 seed Villanova 35-4