Michigan’s Charles Matthews and Duncan Robinson celebrate the Wolverines’ 58-54 victory. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)
LOS ANGELES — The matchup between Michigan and Florida State for the right to go to the Final Four seemed like a perfect contrast in styles. On one side was Michigan, known for its modern offense, based on ball movement, spacing and shooting. On the other was Florida State, known for its length, athleticism and nonstop defensive effort.
It turned out that Michigan’s defense would prove to be decisive.
Despite shooting a paltry 38.8 percent overall and going 4 for 22 (18.2 percent) from three-point range, the third-seeded Wolverines managed to clamp down on the ninth-seeded Seminoles enough to claim a 58-54 victory in the West Region final and advance to next weekend’s national semifinals in San Antonio.
In the immediate aftermath, many questioned Florida State Coach Leonard Hamilton’s decision not to foul after Michigan rebounded a missed three-pointer with 15 seconds left, allowing the clock to run out.
When Michigan (32-7) arrives in Texas, it’ll face the Cinderella story of this tournament, Loyola Chicago, which completed its magical run through March with a victory over Kansas State in Atlanta earlier Saturday.
Michigan was led by 17 points from junior guard Charles Matthews, who was named the regional’s most outstanding player. But to book a trip to Texas it had to get away from what it does best — and what it did in Thursday’s 99-72 demolition of Texas A&M in the Sweet 16.
Florida State (23-12) had managed to upset fourth-seeded Gonzaga on Thursday by overwhelming the Bulldogs — who, like Michigan, rely on precision and execution over raw athleticism — with a frenetic defensive effort and a deep rotation of nine to 11 players.
Michigan was a better version of Gonzaga, but Florida State’s style of play had the same impact. Gone were the wide-open shots that obliterated Texas A&M’s zone defense Thursday. In their place were contested looks — or, on the rare occasions there was a bit of daylight — a quickened release because of anticipated pressure.
The result was the kind of offensive performance that was typical for most teams in this tournament — just not those coached by Beilein, who has burnished his reputation over the past four decades as one of its most innovative offensive minds.
But it still proved enough to beat Florida State, which had plenty of opportunities to impose its will in the paint but simply couldn’t execute, thanks to an equally game Michigan defense that forced the Seminoles to shoot 31.4 percent overall and 4 for 17 (23.5 percent) from three-point range.
In a moment emblematic of the Seminoles’ offensive attack, senior guard Braian Angola posted up a smaller Michigan defender, backed him down and put up a right-handed hook shot from three feet that didn’t even hit the rim.
In response, Florida State Coach Leonard Hamilton spun around and flung his hands in the air — the same response every Florida State fan watching undoubtedly had on multiple occasions throughout the game.
Those fans were not here. It is more than 2,200 miles from Ann Arbor to Los Angeles, but the legions of Wolverines fans crammed into Staples Center made this game feel like it was at Crisler Arena on Michigan’s campus.
Though Florida State may not have enjoyed the same level of fan support, that did nothing to deter the Seminoles from making an impact on the proceedings. Even as Michigan got off to an early lead, it didn’t take long to see the same depth and athleticism advantages that allowed Florida State to smother Gonzaga were going to have a similar impact in this one.
As a result, any hopes Michigan had of jumping on Florida State in the same way it did Texas A&M — when it scored the first five points and recorded a blowout, wire-to-wire victory — quickly evaporated. The team that faced Florida State looked nothing like the one that tore the Aggies apart for 62 percent shooting overall and 114 for 24 (58.3 percent) from behind the arc.
Instead, it was Florida State that imposed its will, forcing Michigan into more turnovers (eight) than field goals (seven) in the first half.
If it wasn’t for 14 Seminoles turnovers in the first half, Florida State would’ve went into the break with a comfortable lead. But those turnovers were converted into 10 points by the Wolverines, which — combined with going 11 for 15 from the free throw line — allowed Michigan to take a 27-26 halftime lead.
And after junior center Christ Koumadje made the opening basket of the second half to give Florida State a 28-27 lead, Michigan retook it for good with a 10-0 run capped by a wide-open layup for senior guard Duncan Robinson after leaking out on a defensive rebound.
That doesn’t mean it was an easy win, as it appeared when Robinson buried a three-pointer in front of Michigan’s bench with 2:14 remaining. The shot capped a 7-0 Michigan run that made it 54-44 in favor of the Wolverines. The crowd — and Michigan’s bench — reacted like it was the clinching shot.
Instead, it set the stage for one more furious Florida State comeback. A series of Michigan mistakes — going 2 for 5 from the foul line, including missing a pair of front ends of one-and-ones, and fouling Florida State’s P.J. Savoy while taking a three-pointer — allowed the Seminoles to get within three after Savoy made a three-pointer with 67 seconds remaining.
But Florida State’s one chance to tie the game — an open three-pointer on the wing by Savoy — went wanting. Zavier Simpson then made one of two free throws with 40 seconds left to give Michigan a four-point lead, and after Phil Cofer, who led Florida State with 16 points, tipped in a miss with 24 seconds left, Robinson buried two more free throws with 21 seconds to finally ice the game.
A final Savoy miss, and a rebound secured by Robinson, ensured the Wolverines would be headed back to the Final Four for the first time since 2014, and the second under Beilein.
And Michigan managed to do so in a way no one anticipated.
This is Michigan’s eighth Final Four appearance in school history. The Wolverines are riding a 13-game winning streak that dates back to Feb. 11.
And just like that, the Michigan lead is back up to 10 after a 7-0 run comprised of a Charles Matthews jumper, a Zavier Simpson layup and a three-pointer from Duncan Robinson.
The Wolverines lead Florida State, 54-44, with 2:15 to play. The winner earns a trip to the Final Four to face Loyola Chicago.
Charles Matthews leads all scorers with 17 points. Moe Wagner has struggled offensively — he’s only 3-of-11 from the floor — but still has 12 points.
Michigan could never pull away. Florida State put Moe Wagner in foul trouble and cut the Wolverine lead down to three points with four minutes to play.
The Wolverines might be starting to pull away. Six minutes into the second half, Michigan is on an 11-2 run to take a 10-point lead, its largest of the game.
Florida State went nearly six minutes without a point as the Wolverines ratcheted up the defensive pressure.
Well, the result won’t be an upset anything like Loyolo Chicago’s run, but Michigan and Florida State are nearly neck-and-neck in Los Angeles at the NCAA tournament’s West regional final.
The Wolverines, edged ahead 27-26 at the half after Moe Wagner was fouled shooting a three-pointer and made two of three free throws. Florida State has successfully turned the game into a slug-fest, something Coach Leonard Hamilton’s group needs to do to throw off the hot-shooting Wolverines.
The Seminoles forced Michigan into 33.3 percent shooting and outrebounded them 15-11 while blocking five shots. But four Florida State players already have two fouls with a full 20 minutes to play.
Charles Matthews leads all scorers with 10 points for the Wolverines. Phil Cofer leads Florida State with seven points.
Florida State, with its three national championships and three Heisman Trophy winners, is known as one of the great college football programs in the country.
Just don’t tell that to the school’s basketball coach.
When Leonard Hamilton was asked about the potential advantages that come with working at a traditional football school, the easygoing 69-year-old was clearly agitated to answer before the question could even finish being asked.
And, once he got started answering, it quickly became clear he had a lot to say.
“I think that’s one of the most ridiculous phrases that I’ve heard, football school, basketball school,” Hamilton said Friday afternoon, the day before his ninth-seeded Seminoles face No. 3 seed Michigan for the right to advance to the Final Four next weekend in San Antonio. “I mean, gosh, [Michigan has] been to the Final Four on a consistent basis. I think they’re a good academic school, and they have great sports.
“The basketball world that I know of, that I live in, never identified them as a football school. As a matter of fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever really heard anybody use that phrase, other than maybe coming from a reporter. I feel that at every school several sports have maybe had more success than others. Our baseball team has probably had as much success at Florida State as anyone, but nobody would call us a baseball school. Our soccer team does an outstanding job. Our volleyball team is good.”
“I just think that’s a cliche and that’s a phrase that we need to eliminate.”
It’s a cliche Hamilton has plenty of experience with. Throughout his three decades of experience as a collegiate head coach — with one year at the helm of the Washington Wizards in the middle — he’s been at three places that would traditionally fit that bill: Oklahoma State, Miami and, for the past 16 seasons, at Florida State.
Though he might not like the term “football school,” he admitted the big weekend celebrations that come with Saturday afternoons at Power Five schools with football tradition such as Michigan and Florida State have some added benefits for a college basketball coach.
“I kind of enjoy those football weekends myself,” he said with a smile. “It’s good for recruiting.”
It was just one of many moments of candor from Hamilton during a lengthy and jovial meeting with the press Friday. He took great pleasure in explaining how he came up with the term “junkyard defense” for his players to emulate, describing in great detail what junkyards in the South are like. He was equally pleased to take the time to describe his team’s philosophy of playing at least 10 players heavy minutes every game, extolling the virtues of several of his players who openly asked for their teammates to remain in the game instead of them because they were playing well.
When asked if he knows any other languages, because of his penchant for recruiting internationally over the years, he quipped, “I’m still working on English, and I’m struggling with that a lot of the time.”
But Hamilton turned poignant when it came to the final answer of his news conference, in response to what it would mean to him, in his 30th season as a collegiate head coach, to reach the Final Four for the first time as a head coach.
“Someone asked me that last night, and I hadn’t had a chance to really think about it, about what it meant to me,” Hamilton said. “I’ve been fortunate in my career to have been, as an assistant, to go to three Final Fours [and win] and I don’t know how many conference championships. I’m more thinking about how important it would be for our student-athletes to enjoy that experience.
“I’m not selfish enough to feel that that’s a cure-all for me that’s going to make my life any more important or successful. But I realize that these are memories that our young people will have that they will cherish for the remainder of their lives. I want so much for them to enjoy that experience, because I know how much it’s going to mean to them.
“I’m more excited about when they graduate and get their degrees, when I get a chance to go through their weddings and be the godfather to their kids. When I see them grow from being young adults to — I mean, from teenagers to young adults, those are the things that are important to me.
“Me personally, I hope that my reward would be to see the smiles on their face and hear their tone of voice and the excitement in it if we can win this game tomorrow.”
Then Hamilton smiled.
“So my job is to try to get them to be mentally and emotionally poised, connected, and energized and not pressured because they’re trying to satisfy something for the coach,” he said with a laugh.
And, with that, he got up from the dais.
Schedule: Florida State (23-11) and Michigan (31-7) will tip off at 8:49 Saturday on TBS.
How Florida State got here:
- The Seminoles wore down No. 8 seed Missouri in a 67-54 first round victory, winning their fourth straight NCAA tournament opener.
- They then rallied from 12 points down to stun top-seeded Xavier in the second round, 75-70.
- They recorded another upset in the Sweet 16, knocking off No. 4 seed Gonzaga, 75-60, to clinch the school’s third Elite Eight berth, and first since 1993. Florida State’s size, length and athleticism bothered Gonzaga from start to finish, with Gonzaga Coach Mark Few calling the Seminoles “probably easily the most physically imposing and athletically gifted team we’ve faced maybe in the 20 years I’ve been head coach.”
How Michigan got here:
- The Wolverines trailed No. 14 seed Montana 10-0 before surging ahead for a 61-47 win.
- Their second-round game offered one of the tournament’s most dramatic endings, when freshman Jordan Poole bombed in a long three-pointer as time expired to clinch a 64-63 win over No. 6 seed Houston.
Regular season results:
Florida State finished the regular season 20-10, with a 9-9 ACC record, earning the eighth seed in the conference tournament. The Seminoles dropped their ACC tournament opener to Louisville, and earned a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament. Florida State didn’t have any players on the all-ACC first, second or third teams; Terance Mann finished ninth in honorable mention.
Michigan finished the regular season 24-7, with a 13-5 Big Ten mark, good for the fifth seed. But the Wolverines raced through that event, winning four games in four days to claim a second straight tournament title. That earned them a No. 3 seed. German forward Moe Wagner was second-team all-Big Ten, while fifth-year senior Duncan Robinson was the conference’s sixth man of the year.
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