Michigan proved on Wednesday it could survive long stretches without senior center Jon Teske.
On Thursday, the Wolverines showed they can prevail when senior guard Zavier Simpson is in foul trouble, too.
In a Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal matchup that showcased two of the nation’s premiere point guards, it was Michigan’s backcourt of junior guard Eli Brooks and sophomore guard David DeJulius who rose to the occasion in a 73-64 win over No. 6 North Carolina at Imperial Arena in the Bahamas.
Brooks tied his career high with 24 points and hit four 3-pointers, including a long-range dagger in the final minute, while DeJulius had 11 points in extended action as Simpson fouled out and played only 17 minutes.
"It does a great deal for our confidence as a team knowing all the hard work that we put in is coming into effect," DeJulius said. "We know there's a goal in our future and just stay the course and win each day to get to moments like these.
"We had our main (point guard), our leader in foul trouble today, so coach always talks about next-man-up mentality. It was big shoes to fill because Zavier Simpson is a great player. Me and Eli just said we were going to lead the team, stay connected and with this great coaching staff and the rest of the crew we were able to get it done."
Junior forward Isaiah Livers added 12 points and Teske had 10 points and eight rebounds in another balanced scoring attack for the Wolverines (6-0), who shot 50% from the field (28-for-56) and used a 19-0 second-half run to blow the game open.
Michigan moves on to face No. 8 Gonzaga, a 73-72 overtime winner over No. 11 Oregon, in the championship game at 2 p.m. Friday.
After Simpson was forced to sit the final 10 minutes of the first half with two fouls, he drew his third whistle less than a minute into the second half. Coach Juwan Howard made the decision to stick with Simpson and the move momentarily paid off.
Simpson fed Brooks for a fast-break dunk, found Teske for a 3-pointer and came up with a block and fast-break layup as Michigan started to rip off 19 straight points. Yet, the bulk of the damage came with Simpson on the bench after he drew his fourth foul with 14:32 left to play.
During the spurt, Michigan's defense continuously limited North Carolina to one shot, which fueled an offensive flurry that had no shortage of contributors. DeJulius scored on a drive to the basket. Livers caught North Carolina on its heels with a fast-break layup. Freshman wing Franz Wagner drained a 3-pointer in transition. Brooks drained another 3-pointer and converted at the rim. It all added up to 60-36 lead with 11:21 remaining.
"We take good shots and people aren't afraid to share the ball because they know the next person is going to do their job," Brooks said of the run. "The one common theme is trust. Trusting the next man up to do their job, so just do yours."
The overwhelming run wasn’t enough to keep North Carolina down for the count. After missing 13 of their first 14 shots in the second half, the Tar Heels started to find a groove and fought back with a 23-7 run to cut the deficit to single digits.
The blitz started with a string of 11 straight points before Livers briefly stemmed the tide with a 3-pointer to make it 66-51 with 6:07 to play. Then after Simpson fouled out with 5:11 remaining, North Carolina pulled within 67-59 on a layup by Garrison Brooks at the 3:13 mark.
Brooks effectively quashed the comeback bid and stamped Michigan's ticket into the title game with a game-sealing 3-pointer, pushing the lead to 72-61 with 1:12 left.
Star freshman guard Cole Anthony scored 22 and Brooks 13 for North Carolina (5-1), which shot 15.4% (2-for-13) from 3-point range. The Tar Heels won the battle on the boards, 36-34, after entering the contest with the top rebounding margin (plus-21) in the nation.
"It was an ugly second half," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "Last year they were one of the best defensive teams in the country. They continue to do it with Teske and those guys bothering every shot around the rim. The guards get after you and make it difficult to go where you want to go.
"It was an ugly first part of the second half for us missing so many shots. I haven't had many teams go eight minutes with only scoring one field goal."
For the second time in two days, Michigan got off to a slow start and faced an early nine-point deficit as North Carolina used a 12-3 spurt to pull ahead 16-7 with 13:07 left in the first half.
For the second straight game, though, Michigan responded with a big run of its own. After Simpson started a 14-4 run with a driving layup, he found DeJulius in the corner for a 3-pointer and sophomore center Colin Castleton scored on an offensive tip-in to put Michigan up 21-20 at the 9:00 mark.
Even after Simpson went to the bench with two fouls at the 10:03 mark, Michigan's bench kept the ball rolling. DeJulius, who was coming off a career-high 14 point-performance against Iowa State, picked up where he left off and provided instant offense once again. He scored six straight points in less than a minute to push the lead to seven and help Michigan take a 39-34 lead at the break.
"Well, it's a big win. It's two big wins," Howard said. "Now we came here to win three. We have one more game to play."
Battle 4 Atlantis
At Imperial Arena, Nassau, Bahamas
►Game 1: Michigan 83, Iowa State 76
►Game 2: North Carolina 76, Alabama 67
►Game 3: Gonzaga 94, Southern Miss 69
►Game 4: Oregon 71, Seton Hall 69
►Game 5: Michigan 73, North Carolina 64
►Game 6: Gonzaga 73, Oregon 72 (OT)
►Game 7: Iowa State 104, Alabama 89
►Game 8: Seton Hall 81, Southern Miss 56
►Third-place game: North Carolina vs. Oregon, 11:30 a.m. (ESPN or ESPN2)
►Championship: Michigan vs. Gonzaga, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
►Fifth-place game: Iowa State vs. Seton Hall, 7 p.m. (ESPN2 or ESPNU)
►Seventh-place game: Alabama vs. Southern Miss, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN2, ESPNU or ESPNEWS)