Duncan Robinson, Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Zavier Simpson and Jordan Poole Matt Charboneau
San Antonio — During the first 30 minutes, it looked like Michigan was going to become the next chapter of Loyola-Chicago’s feel-good story.
That was until the Wolverines woke up from their slumber and dominated down the stretch.
Third-seeded Michigan used a game-changing 17-2 second-half run and a monster performance from junior center Moritz Wagner to rally from a 10-point deficit and send No. 11 seed Loyola packing with a 69-57 win in a national semifinal Saturday at the Alamodome.
The Wolverines advance to the national title game for the second time in six seasons and seventh time in program history.
They will play No. 1 seed Villanova, a 95-79 winner over Kansas in the other semifinal, at 9:20 p.m. Monday for a shot at their first title since 1989. The game will be televised on TBS.
Coach Beilein says this year’s Final Two team “was really very fortunate” to avoid injuries and attention, but “this team has played well and played together, just like (the 2013) team.”
“We're just elated to get a win like that and the way we did it,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “They really gave us problems in the first half. They rotated so quickly. And this has been our dilemma all year long: How are people going to guard a shooting five? And we have to adjust as the game goes on. We didn't adjust very well.
“But the second half, after we saw how — their actions and then we needed to make some shots, we couldn't make them for a while but then we did. And our young guys came in there, all of a sudden we took off like crazy. Everybody is really happy, and we're ready to move on to the next game.”
Michigan’s Moritz Wagner responds to the comment that he's joined Hakeem Olajuwon and Larry Bird as the only players to have at least 20 points and 15 rebounds in a national semifinals game.
Wagner finished with 24 points and a career-best 15 rebounds Michigan (33-7), which improved to 7-1 all-time in national semifinal games. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Wagner joined Hakeem Olajuwon (1983) and Larry Bird (1979) as the only players in the last 40 years with at least 20 points and 15 rebounds in a national semifinal game.
Following a struggle-filled first half where Michigan shot 29 percent (9-for-31), committed eight turnovers and trailed by seven at halftime, the Wolverines were staring at a 41-31 deficit with 14:08 remaining after Clayton Custer scored seven straight points for the Ramblers (32-6).
But Michigan refused to fade and clamped down on defense, holding Loyola to just 16 points the rest of the way while forcing 11 second-half turnovers.
Jaaron Simmons hit a 3-pointer cut it to six and Duncan Robinson added another over a minute later to make it 45-42 with 10:19 remaining and kick-start the pivotal 17-2 run that put Michigan in control.
“We’ve been fighting through adversity all season,” Simmons said. “All we needed to see was the ball go in a couple of times, get a couple stops and we did that. The momentum, you could just feel it shifting our way.”
After Jordan Poole scored on a layup to start a string of 12 straight points for Michigan and five consecutive turnovers for Loyola, Wagner buried a corner 3-pointer to tie it and Poole knocked down two free throws to put the Wolverines ahead, 49-47, with 6:20 to go.
Charles Matthews (17 points) followed with driving layup and Wagner, who Loyola had no answer for all game long, capped the flurry with a three-point play to put Michigan up, 54-47, at the 4:59 mark.
“We had that run with the turnovers and it snowballed on us,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “They close the gaps. We always talk about getting the domino going. They closed the gap of opportunity really fast.
“They capitalized on it … I thought we were rotating so well for so long that it just was a step slower, when you start getting that many turnovers in a row, and it was just — it was a painful run.”
Loyola managed to pull within five twice before Wagner splashed another 3-pointer and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored on a driving layup to extend the lead to 61-51 with 2:13 remaining.
Matthews threw down a breakaway dunk and Abdur-Rahkman and Robinson combined for six free throws in the final 1:02 to put an end to Loyola’s Cinderella run.
Cameron Krutwig scored 17, Custer 15 and Aundre Jackson 10 for Loyola (32-6), who was the fourth No. 11 seed to make it this far before reaching the end of the road in the semifinals.
Wolverines player talks about his 17-point performance in team's 69-57 Final Four victory over the Ramblers. Matt Charboneau
“We never looked at the team as a Cinderella team,” Matthews said. “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.”
Michigan was able to do that defensively in the first half, but struggled mightily on the offensive end. After the Wolverines held the Ramblers scoreless for 5:30 and used a 9-0 run to take a 12-4 lead at the 12:42 mark, Michigan scored just 10 points the rest of the half.
Jackson snapped Loyola’s scoreless streak with a pair of free throws at 12:26 mark and ended a nearly eight-minute field-goal drought at the 10:20 mark that helped ignite a 15-3 run to put the Ramblers ahead, 19-15, with 5:29 left in the half.
Michigan missed nine of 10 shots during Loyola’s run and couldn’t get anything to drop before Wagner, who recorded a double-double in the first half, scored on back-to-back baskets to cut it to 21-19 at the 4:07 mark.
Donte Ingram scored on a floater before time expired to give Loyola a 29-22 lead at the break before Michigan made the needed adjustments that turned the tide and put it one victory away from a national title.
“As a team, we're still hungry. We feel like we could be national champions,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “It’s something we always talk about. That's how you're remembered at the University of Michigan and it would incredible for us to win one. We're just going to keep fighting for another 40 minutes.”
MICHIGAN IN TITLE GAME
Michigan in the NCAA Tournament championship game:
1965: Lost to UCLA, 91-80
1976: Lost to Indiana, 86-68
1989: Defeated Seton Hall, 80-79
1992: Lost to Duke, 71-51
1993: Lost to North Carolina, 77-71
2013: Lost to Louisville, 82-76
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