Michigan 69, Loyola Chicago 57, One More Game Comment Count

Ace March 31st, 2018 at 9:56 PM

Moe Wagner made history with his performance tonight. [Bryan Fuller]

We just had to believe.

Believe in the Moe Wagner First Three-Pointer Corollary. Believe in Luke Yaklich's defense. Believe that Zavier Simpson wouldn't have the worst game of his life for every last minute. Believe that these damn shots would eventually fall. Believe in the Ironclad Law of Duncan Robinson's Six. Believe in John Beilein.

Our beliefs were tested. Michigan shot out of the gate, gaining an early 12-4 edge, before a well-coached Loyola squad started outplaying them. The switching Ramblers defense kept the Wolverines from getting into their usual sets. On the other end, Loyola combined dizzying off-ball motion with strong post-ups from center Cameron Krutwig. While Wagner was a force, tallying 11 points and 11 boards at halftime, he received almost no help. Charles Matthews churned out eight points on 3-for-8 shooting. Backup center Jon Teske made his lone attempt. Nobody else on the team had a bucket.

While Michigan's poor outside shooting wasn't anything new this tournament, the same couldn't be said for the seven-point halftime deficit, nor the simultaneous disappearing acts of Robinson, Simpson, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. The Wolverines had been able to grind out wins without one or two of those players in top form; getting nothing out of all three would be tough to overcome.

The exclamation point. [Fuller]

Ever so slowly, Wagner and friends worked their way back in the second half. Ever so slowly. The margin remained at seven at the first media timeout and climbed to eight on a pair of Clayton Custer free throws out of the second. With the outside shots still clanging iron and Simpson looking entirely out of sorts, Beilein turned to his bench, subbing in Teske and Jordan Poole. With ten seconds of entering the game, Poole drove baseline for a layup. Shortly thereafter, Poole grabbed a defensive rebound in traffic, pushed the pace, and the ball worked around to Robinson for a three-pointer—quite notably, his second, reaching the magic six-point mark while cutting the deficit to three.

Poole, fully at home taking center stage in the Final Four, kept seeking out buckets. After another board, he went coast-to-coast for a tough layup. Wagner knotted the game a minute later by backing out of a double-team and launching a three-pointer right over it. Poole took his the next turn, giving Michigan its first lead of the second half at the line with 6:20 to play.

"The Drip Boys are full of swag, that's what they call themselves," said Matthews. "They bring instant energy, especially this kid here [Poole]. This is my roommate, so I've got my hands tied with him the whole trip long."

In closing time, Beilein went with his go-to guys. Simpson came back in for Simmons, rediscovered his defense, and kept the ball moving without those unsightly turnovers. Matthews hit a gorgeous reverse layup off a sharp pass from Wagner after taking a quick breather. Abdur-Rahkman got Michigan's lead up to double digits with a tough runner, only his second basket of the game, that all but ended the game with 2:13 to play. Sister Jean got a head start up the tunnel right around the time Matthews hammered home the final nail.

How many more, Jordan? [Fuller]

This was, above all, a career-defining performance by Wagner, who finished with 24 points on 17 shot equivalents, 15 rebounds (six offensive), an assist, and three steals. That stat line put him among Hall of Fame company: Larry Bird and Hakeem Olajuwon are the only other players to record 20 points and 15 rebounds in a national semifinal.

"Wow," said Wagner upon hearing that fact. "If you put it like that, it's probably cool. But to be honest, I kept looking possession by possession, we had trouble scoring the first half. We scored 22 points and that was kind of the only way we found our way to the basket, grab offensive rebounds and get second-shot opportunities. And I honestly just tried to do my job. The shots were falling the second half. It's a lot more fun when the ball goes through the net."

Wagner also played one of his best defensive games; while Krutwig went 7-for-11 from the field, he also coughed up six turnovers, and Wagner committed only one foul—of paramount importance in a game the Wolverines needed all 36 of his brilliant minutes.

Michigan's now-usual stifling defense handled the rest until the offense finally clicked late. Just don't tell the Wolverines they just knocked off Cinderella.

"We never looked at the team as a Cinderella team," said Matthews. "It's like 300-something Division I teams, and they're one of the last four standing. That's no Cinderella story. We respected them and we knew we had to come out and execute against them."

It took a lot of patience and faith in the system, but it ultimately paid off in Michigan's second trip to the NCAA championship game in six years. The winner of Villanova-Kansas awaits on Monday night.

"Everybody is really happy," said Beilein. "And we're ready to move on to the next game, whoever it is."

[Hit THE JUMP for more photos and the box score.]

All photos by Bryan Fuller.



March 31st, 2018 at 10:02 PM ^

Moe, man. Not huge in every game, but huge here when it counted. 

Matthews continues to frighten me with his assertiveness, the memories of hero-ball and turnovers and bad shots still close at hand; even here, with the offense struggling in the worst way, he proved my fears wrong, played within himself, and provided exactly what he needed to. And good thing, because some other guys were rough.

It was the shift to offense that keyed the game. Poole provided key points, but I think the shift in the team's attitude was more important. Suddenly they were attacking and making 3s and everybody knew there were scoring options on the floor. He got away with a couple of defensive biffs, and that sealed the game.

One to go.

Based upon what we're seeing in the late game, this might be where the road ends.

But what a road.


April 1st, 2018 at 1:23 PM ^

I felt like when he entered the game the team's mindset just became more aggressive, especially on the offensive end. His drive to the basket right upon entering the game felt like a jolt when I was watching, and then after Robinson hit that three right after I really started feeling like we were going to pull this one out. Those were a tense first 10 minutes of the second half...


April 1st, 2018 at 8:00 AM ^

Looked at Nova's losses from this year. Their shot chart was telling. lots of open circles from 3 point land. Definitely a team that tries to shoot from deep to get out of shooting slumps. Play tough perimeter defense, make them uncomfortable from 3 and we can take them out of their game. At which point they'll keep jacking bad looks up from deep.

One good thing Nova is on the quick turnaround and to adjust to our offense from the hot looks Kansas gave them may give them fits. We know how good we are to beat in the second game. so we've got that going for us. Let's just hope we peak Monday night. Would be an epic final!


March 31st, 2018 at 10:16 PM ^

Hit our shots and we have a chance. This is a better team than the Purdue team that we beat one out of three times.

In fairness I think we can do a better job than Kansas on D. But enough better?

We need MAAR. And Moe, again. And Matthews. And Duncan. And some good drives from Z. And defense, defense, defense.

The upshot: We're the clear underdog here, nobody will give us a chance. This is a can't-lose situation. 

Indy Pete - Go Blue

April 1st, 2018 at 2:21 AM ^

The pressure is not as high on the underdog.  Villanova just had an all-time 3 point barrage against a team that doubled down on every drive.  Those looks were nearly all wide-open.  I don't think the same will happen against this elite perimeter Michigan defense.  After they miss a few looks, they might get nervous, start pressing, and BAM, Michigan jumps out to a lead.  I am very bullish on our chances, despite the Vegas spread, b/c I think regression to the mean combined with our unique defense will make this a very competitive championship.   Also, it is nice that the, 'your team choked' onus is squarely on our opponent.

Imagine the joy of a National Championship!  Last time we won it, I was 8 (and it was the birthing of my Michigan fandom growing up in Indiana).  It's funny; sports, as frivilous as they are, were the reason I was drawn to Michigan.  I went to U of M, and now am married to a woman from Michigan and my life is forever changed - for the better.  Go blue!


April 1st, 2018 at 3:35 AM ^

Michigan needs more than regression to the mean.  Villanova is crazy good on offense.  Michigan needs to hold Villanova below their mean, or to play above theirs.

It's certainly possible, of course.  KenPom gives Michigan a 31% chance.  By way of comparison, the last time Michigan defeated an opponent when starting with a 31% chance or worse was... this year, at Breslin.  (They had about a 33% chance to beat Purdue in MSG).

And -- perhaps not surprisingly -- the last time Michigan won a game when they had less than a 31% chance was earlier tonight, as they were down to about a 25% chance when it was 41-31.

The national pundits have all but crowned Villanova, and they're favorites for a reason.  Michigan will need some breaks on Monday -- either the 3-point shooting from the Texas A&M game or Villanova's 3-point shooing from the Texas Tech game (or, preferably, both), would be really nice.  I don't think Michigan is going to concede 40 three-point attempts, though.  Holding Villanova to 20-25 three point attempts would be a big win for Michigan.


April 1st, 2018 at 12:52 PM ^

versus a 2nd half of the season Villanova.

I would guess that the difference would be much smaller.

Heck, even the eye-balls AP Rankings had us unranked before the Breslin win.


April 1st, 2018 at 4:09 PM ^

Take KenPom, the National Pundits and any other naysayers and toss it out. Doesn’t matter. Villanova is good and they are a very tough matchup for us. Michigan is good and we are a very tough matchup for them. They have not seen a team like ours that can win in so many different ways. Our road to the Title game has allowed us to see many different types of teams, offenses, defensive schemes, players and we have responded every time. This game will be no different. Championship teams find a way and we will.


April 1st, 2018 at 12:58 PM ^

is a likely preview.

It's got to be frustrating to go from everything is easy and going in to everything is contested and you're FG percentage drops precipitously.

Michigan persevered against an FSU team that was also facing a tough Mich defense and (IMO) just didn't have enough offensive firepower to take advantage of a toe-to-toe game at halftime.

Every once and a while, this Michigan team goes off on offense (while consistently playing tough defense), and let's hope that happens on Monday.


March 31st, 2018 at 10:10 PM ^

Beilein did some coaching this game, looking for the right combination against their switching defense. That said, from my couch it sure looked like much of Loyola's problems starting at the mid-point of the second half were self-induced. I'll take it, and hope they get another Texas A&M game on Monday.


March 31st, 2018 at 10:46 PM ^

He was off his game and kept throwing up those threes, so JB sat him down (played 33 min, under his season average) — he looked better after that. Sitting him down did the trick. Also gave Poole free rein.


April 1st, 2018 at 2:38 AM ^

that's been their one weakness so you can count on them making some mistakes and they finally did toward the end but we stepped up the defensive intensity and forced most of them as well.  Our perimeter guys are so good at staying in front of players when they drive that it forces turnovers. 

The guy that basically fell into Z just wasn't expecting Z to be able to beat him so badly to his spot.  The guy tried to lean in for the foul but Z was so far ahead of him (most defenders kind of ride the offensive player down the lane) that when the guy tried to initiate contact to draw a foul he fell over.  There were a lot of their drives like that where they thought they'd have a shot or be able to draw a foul and when that wasn't the case, they forced things.


April 1st, 2018 at 1:17 PM ^

I agree.

The 38-16 run from 14 minute mark down 10 has been frequently cited, but we were down 9 at the 12 minute mark (35-14 run thereafter) and 8 at the 11:25 mark (32-12 run thereafter).  The anxiety was still high at the ~12 minute TV break.

After a Poole layup and Robinson's 2nd 3-pointer cut it to 3 points at 10:23, Kripke made a layup to put the Flying Nuns up 5 with 9:19 to go.  Loyola would then go scoreless for the next 4:35, at which time Kripke would make another layup to end a 12-0 Mich run and cut the Loyola deficit to 5 at the 4:44 mark.


April 1st, 2018 at 4:11 PM ^

and I think we turned them over something like 6 possessions in the row.

Yes, the offense got in gear, but defense won that game once again.  Had the defense not started forcing turnovers it would have been really tough because they were making their mid-range jumpers even though they were well guarded and they were pretty good at drawing fouls and of course making FTs.

They had 47 points with 5 min left in the game.  And we only had 51.  That was another defense saves the day game.


March 31st, 2018 at 10:16 PM ^

...man did it not feel like our night for most of the game. I’m still not used to having a defense that can pull the team through a shooting slump like that. It wasn’t good for my heart, but in some ways winning a game in that way was particularly satisfying. I give credit to Loyola for being such a cohesive group.

As for Mo, that was one of Michigan’s all-time great tournament efforts. Thanks for carrying us, big fella.

Bando Calrissian

March 31st, 2018 at 10:16 PM ^

'round about 2009, I bought a t-shirt out of a black garbage bag in the Maize Rage bleachers for $5: BELIEVE BEILEIN. At the time, it seemed the right thing to do. Ludicrously aspirational. Hopeful. Beer money averted elsewhere.

Almost a decade later, it's what I wear for gamedays. One more.


March 31st, 2018 at 10:17 PM ^

Huge, HUGE game from Moe that was much needed. Glad the offense found a rythm in the 2nd half. And the D was absolutely suffocating in the second frame too. Damn, that was a fun half of basketball to watch.




March 31st, 2018 at 10:35 PM ^

Yep. I mean, does Kansas even have an offense? Or a defense? I can't decide which is worse. When they succeed, it is almost in spite of the coaching. Also hard to decide: who does less with NBA talent, Self or Izzo?