'Buzz saw' Michigan cuts through Texas A&M; Florida State up next
Los Angeles – Michigan proved it could prevail when it wasn’t at its best in the NCAA Tournament.
On Thursday, the third-seeded Wolverines sent a message and showed just how dangerous they can be when they’re firing on all cylinders.
Michigan fed off a dominant first half to steamroll No. 7 seed Texas A&M, 99-72, in a Sweet 16 beatdown at the Staples Center and emphatically stamp its ticket to the Elite Eight for the third time in six seasons.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Moritz Wagner led five scorers in double figures with 24 and 21 points, respectively, for Michigan (31-7), which shot 61.9 percent (39-for-63) from the field and 58.3 percent (14-for-24) from 3-point range.
The 99 points is the sixth-most in program history in the NCAA Tournament and most since Michigan scored 102 against East Tennessee State in 1992. The 61.9 percent shooting clip was also the second-best mark and the 14 made 3-pointers tied for the second-most for Michigan in the tournament.
With the win, Michigan tied the single-season program record with 31 victories and advances to face No. 9 Florida State in the West Region final at 8:49 p.m. Saturday. The game will be televised on TBS.
“I think we're a very confident team, and I think that's all that matters,” said Wagner, who bounced back from a pair of rough outings with an 8-for-12 shooting night and made all three of his 3-point attempts.
“We've been playing within ourselves all year and not looking at the opponent too much. Looking at the game plan, trying to execute that, and I think we've been believing all year we can beat anyone if we play our best basketball.”
After failing to make a basket in the first four minutes against Montana and Houston in its first two tournament games, Michigan completely flipped the script against Texas A&M (22-13). The Wolverines came out breathing fire and made five of their first seven shots to race out to 12-4 lead with 15:28 left in the first half.
Wagner did the heavy lifting and took advantage of Texas A&M’s ball screen switches to set the tone early, scoring on three baskets in the paint to get Michigan’s offense rolling. He added two free throws to spark a 7-0 spurt that extended Michigan’s lead to 19-6 with 12:16 left. During the stretch, Texas A&M missed six straight shots and was held scoreless for over three minutes.
“Felt like we ran into a buzz saw,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “I felt like Michigan, the first eight to 10 minutes, played about as well as anybody we played against this year. They looked like that's how they played in the Big Ten tournament, more so than they played their last two games.
“You've got to give them a lot of credit. It seemed like everything they shot went in.”
And at one point, it did. The Wolverines made seven consecutive shots and forced turnovers to get out in transition during a 15-4 run to put a stranglehold on the game with a commanding 39-16 advantage at the 6:51 mark.
Zavier Simpson (11 points) started the flurry with a 3-pointer before getting a steal and scoring on a fast-break layup. Charles Matthews (18 points) and Wagner each drained back-to-back 3-pointers before Duncan Robinson added a layup and fast-break dunk to put the Wolverines in complete control.
The lead continued to swell as Abdur-Rahkman and Robinson (10 points) drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to put Texas A&M in an overwhelming 52-23 hole that it would never be able to climb out of with 2:16 remaining.
“It was ridiculous,” Wagner said. “I mean, we know this. It's not a surprise to us. We all can shoot. We've been doing that all year regardless of what other people say. We're very confident and that only happens if you get stops though. That’s the one thing we focus on.”
After shooting 57.1 percent (20-for-35) in the first half, the Wolverines turned their red-hot shooting up a notch in the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers by Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman to push their lead to 60-32 with 18:28 to play.
Michigan led by at least 21 points the entire second half until Jay Jay Chandler capped an 8-0 run with a layup to cut the lead under 20, 79-61, with 6:01 to go.
Abdur-Rahkman quelled what little momentum the Aggies had built with a 3-pointer before Wagner provided the exclamation point on Michigan’s dominant night with a thunderous dunk to reestablish a 25-point lead at 3:34 mark.
“It was kind of hard to see because I was just wondering when they were going to miss,” Texas A&M guard Admon Gilder said. “So, when they were able to hit the three ball so well, it kind of opened up their driving lanes, and they were able to get in the lane.
“We came out in the second half and gave ourselves an opportunity, but they came out and played hard as well. We couldn't get to that point where we could come back.”
Davis finished with 24 points and eight rebounds, Robert Williams had 12 points and six rebounds, and Gilder scored 10 for Texas A&M, which finished with 12 offensive rebounds and 16 second-chance points but had 14 turnovers that led to 20 Michigan points.
“Today might have been close to our best quite honestly,” Robinson said. “But hopefully we still got a little bit left in the tank.”
Michigan vs. Florida State
Tip-off: 8:49 p.m. Saturday, Staples Center, Los Angeles
Records: No. 3 seed Michigan 31-7; No. 9 seed Florida State 23-11
Up next: Winner advances to Final Four vs. Loyola Chicago-Kansas State winner.