Michigan bounces back, takes down UNLV to reach Roman Main Event final
In the entertainment capital of the world, it seemed fitting that freshman forward Moussa Diabate put on a show.
Diabate produced his own reel of highlights and energizing plays on both ends to help No. 4 Michigan get back on track with a 74-61 win over UNLV in the Roman Main Event tournament at T-Mobile Arena.
Fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks led the way with 22 points and picked up his 108th career win to tie the program’s all-time mark, and sophomore center Hunter Dickinson added 13 points and seven boards for Michigan (3-1), which shot 51% from the field (26-for-51).
But it was Diabate who was effective and efficient in a breakout performance that saw him stuff the stat sheet with 14 points (6-for-7 shooting), seven rebounds and two blocks in 21 minutes.
“It was great. I’m just happy to help my team whatever way I can,” said Diabate, who had 14 points over the first three games. “We got the ‘W’ even though it wasn’t the best-looking win. But it was great. I was happy to help my team.”
Michigan moves on to face Arizona in the championship game at 9:30 p.m. Sunday. The Wildcats pulled out an 82-78 overtime win over Wichita State after blowing a 16-point lead in the first game of the doubleheader, which pushed back the tip of Michigan's game back to 1 a.m. EST.
The Wolverines had a tough time breaking free from the Runnin' Rebels in Las Vegas. After sputtering into halftime and watching a 12-point lead evaporate, Dickinson hit a short hook to put Michigan up five before Bryce Hamilton scored five straight to even it at 40 with 17:15 to play.
UNLV continued to stick around until Michigan started to string together stops and created some distance with an 11-2 run. Dickinson kicked it off with a dunk. Brooks capped a string a seven straight points with a 3-pointer. Diabate swatted a pair of shots and muscled his way for an offensive putback to make it 58-47 with 9:29 left.
Another 3-pointer from Brooks pushed the lead to 63-51 at the 6:27 mark. But unlike Tuesday's loss to Seton Hall, Michigan didn't struggle to put the game away down the stretch. UNLV cut the deficit to six twice before Brooks and Diabate knocked down six consecutive free throws in the final minute to seal it.
Hamilton finished with 21 points and Michael Nuga and Donovan Williams each scored 12 for UNLV (3-1), which shot 39.7% from the field (25-for-63) and 32.1% from 3-point range (9-for-28) and was outscored 16-2 at the free-throw line.
“We’d love to sit back and say we’re happy we hung tough, but honestly that’s not really the feeling right now,” UNLV coach Kevin Kruger said. “On that note, there were a number of opportunities we could’ve given in, but guys fought, competed to get good shots to stop runs and did a good job of banding together.
“This game was pretty similar to the first three in the sense of we had a little lull in the second half, but tonight we weren’t able to get back in front.”
Michigan fed Dickinson early as it leaned on its frontcourt to get things going. Dickinson showed off his passing, scoring and expanded game, knocking down a perimeter jumper before finding senior forward Brandon Johns Jr. on a cut for a 10-9 lead with 13:48 left in the first half.
Shortly after checking in, Diabate made an immediate impact with the highlight of the night. After intercepting a deflected pass, he changed directions in transition and threw down a posterizing, one-handed dunk over a UNLV defender.
“We’ve seen it in practice. It’s good to see it out in a game," Brooks said. "We knew he was going to have a breakout game. It was just a matter of time. It brought a lot of energy to the team both offensively and defensively.”
Diabate followed that up with a baby hook on a high-low feed from Dickinson and hit another jump hook to give Michigan a 19-15 lead at the 9:20 mark.
Diabate continued to make things happen, adding another basket in the paint during a 12-3 spurt that saw Brooks hit his second 3-pointer to widen the margin to 35-23 with 2:57 remaining in the half.
But just when it looked like Michigan was starting to run away, it stumbled into halftime with a string of turnovers. UNLV promptly took advantage and closed the half on a 9-0 run to make it a three-point game at the break.
“They didn’t back down for one minute, nor died we expect them to," Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. "I’m impressed with how our team was able to deal with a team that competes as hard as UNLV on the offensive glass, making tough shots, driving to the basket, being physical but still able to keep our composure. We did a good job of playing through Hunter and making the right play. At times we did make mistakes but that’s part of it. We’ll get better.”