Michigan coach talks about his team bouncing back from a disappointing loss at Ohio State and pulling out a dramatic 78-69 win on Saturday. James Hawkins
Ann Arbor — With nonconference play winding down, Michigan was searching for a signature win.
It bagged one in dramatic fashion on Saturday.
Michigan used a strong finish to overcome a 15-point second-half deficit and a woeful performance at the free-throw line en route to a thrilling 78-69 overtime win over UCLA at Crisler Center.
Moritz Wagner scored 23 points, Charles Matthews had 20 points and eight rebounds and Zavier Simpson scored a career-high 15 points to lead a gritty comeback for Michigan (8-3), which flipped the script following Monday's brutal loss at Ohio State.
"I've never seen anything like this,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “You go 8-for-22 from the foul line and you win a game. It's really a great testimony to our kids that we did everything we could to play some inefficient basketball. But when we really needed to suck it up and get work done at the end, we got it done.
"I'm hoping that it's a huge benchmark for our team as we go forward. It's the exact opposite of what happened at Ohio State."
After the Wolverines found themselves trailing 46-31 with 14:48 to play, they clawed back behind Wagner (10 second-half points) and Matthews (11 second-half points) to close within three points in the final minute before a pair of unlikely heroes stepped up to make critical plays.
Simpson stole an Aaron Holiday (27 points) pass near midcourt and raced down to the other end for a layup to pull Michigan within one, 64-63, with 18 seconds left.
Then after UCLA’s Gyorgy Goloman made the front end of a 1-and-1, freshman Eli Brooks was fouled on a driving layup and calmly sank both free throws to knot it at 65 with 11 seconds left. The Bruins had the final shot in regulation, but Prince Ali missed a long jumper at the buzzer.
In the extra session, Michigan wasted no time taking control over UCLA (7-2) with back-to-back 3-pointers by Simpson and Matthews to grab a 71-65 lead in less than a minute.
Wagner and Matthews added back-to-back baskets to push the lead to 75-67 with 2:21 remaining, and UCLA never had an answer. Simpson helped seal it with a layup and free throw as Michigan made all five of its shots and outscored UCLA 13-4 in overtime.
“We took a tough one at Ohio State,” Simpson said, referencing the 20-point lead the Wolverines blew to the Buckeyes. “Coaches were on us and we shouldn't have lost it. I think that played a lot in the role today that we're not losing this game. We don't deserve to lose this.
“We were not playing our best and we were only down 15. We just put that aside and said, 'Let's fight every possession.' That's what we did.”
UCLA opened the second half on a 16-4 run to put Michigan in a 15-point hole and the game on the brink of teetering out of control. But instead of letting everything unravel like it did at Ohio State, Michigan battled back as Matthews sparked a 10-1 run to trim the deficit to single digits, 47-41, at the 11:55 mark.
The Bruins, who finished with 20 turnovers, pulled back ahead by nine with 7:05 left in regulation before Michigan shot 12-for-13 from the field the remainder of the game to finish with a flourish.
Junior center talks about his team's thrilling comeback in Saturday's 78-69 victory. James Hawkins
“We were surprised we were down (15). We didn't even notice it,” Wagner said. “We just told ourselves in the huddle to keep playing, stay committed to the process and just possession by possession fight back somehow. I think (Simpson) gave us a great spark halfway through the second half just by contesting everything, stealing a lot and deflecting a lot of balls.”
However, not everything went smoothly down the stretch for Michigan. After Simpson hit leaning layup to cut it to 62-60 with 2:35 left, he had a careless turnover on the ensuing possession that led to a UCLA basket by Thomas Welsh (22 points, 10 rebounds).
Then on following two possessions, Matthews was fouled and sent to the line. He missed the front end of a 1-and-1 on the first trip and then split two free throws to pull Michigan within 64-61 with 43 seconds left.
But in the end, it proved to be just enough before the late heroics by Simpson and Brooks.
"We'll take the 'W' every day because we did earn it in the long run," Beilein said. "We did earn it the way we played."