Junior transfer forward, Charles Mathews, ran the floor and slammed home a powerful dunk for No. 3 Michigan in Saturday’s Elite Eight battle against No. 9 Florida State, as a sea of blue-and-yellow shirts all fluttered Staples Center in the showdown.
The Seminoles (23-12) junkyard dog style of defense kept them in the game late, all until senior guard Duncan Robinson drilled a corner three-pointer for the (32-7) Wolverines with 2:26 left, giving them a 54-44 lead.
Let’s go Blue chants could be heard throughout the entire arena that sought the 19,665 fans in attendance, as Michigan ultimately was able to hold off the Seminoles 58-54, lifting their winning streak to 13 straight games, now advancing to San Antonio, Texas for the Final Four.
“I’ve never seen a team work so hard and be so connected on both ends of the floor,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Even when things do not go right on the offensive end, they were exceptional on defense.”
Making shots certainly did not come easy for either team, as both teams combined to make only 16 field-goals along to combine for 22 turnovers through 20 minutes of play.
The Seminoles shot 31 percent from the field with 15 turnovers, while the Wolverines shot 39 percent and committed eleven turnovers.
“We’ve got to find a way to make it happen,” said Mathews who led all scorers with 17 points and eight rebounds.
“I thought that’s what my teammates did today. We understood we can’t control if shots go in or not, but we got to control our energy and effort, and we did that on the defensive end.”
After a back and forth, low scoring half, that saw Michigan leading 27-26, intensity definitely picked up for the Wolverines early on in the second half.
The Wolverines used an 11-2 run to boost their cushion to 38-28, as the Seminoles went scoreless for over five minutes, as they were forced into tough shots that resulted in horrid offense.
“They call themselves the junkyard dogs,” said Beilein, speaking on Florida State’s nickname for its defense. “Well, we’re pit bulls.”
The pit bulls certainly did enough to earn a nickname for themselves, as the Wolverines held the Seminoles to 54 points, a new season-low.
There were a lot of possessions throughout the whole game where we did things that they took us out of rhythm and we just missed shots,” said Florida State guard Terance Mann, who scored four points with five rebounds.
With Michigan struggling from the perimeter as well, Florida State was able to hang around till the end, as things got very interesting in the final minutes.
Seminoles guard, PJ Savoy, finished with 16 points and did everything in his power to extend the game late, as he scored six straight points in under 15 seconds, where he first converted on three made free-throws, right before burying a three pointer that made the score 55-52 with 1:17 left.
Florida State then intentionally fouled Michigan guard Xavier Simpson, where he split a pair of free throws to give the Wolverines a 56-52 lead with 40 seconds remaining.
The Seminoles responded right away, cutting their deficit back to only two points after Phil Cofer scored a layup.
However, Robinson stepped up to the free throw line cool, calm and collected and drained two more free throws, sealing the deal for the Wolverines with a 58-54 victory.
“Man, I’m just a senior with a chance to seal a victory and send this team to the Final Four,” added Robinson.
“I relish these opportunities and I knew I wasn’t gonna let my guys down after everything they’ve done for me and giving to me, it’s the least I can do in that moment.”
Looking to stay hot and add to their historic win streak, they must get past the Cinderella team of the tournament, in No. 11 Loyola University Chicago (32-5), who has pulled upsets galore in all of their match-ups.
The 2018 Final Four will take place in The Alamodome in San Antonio, where Loyola-Chicago and Michigan will play Saturday at 3:09 p.m. on TBS, followed by Kansas and Villanova at 8:49 p.m., where the winners will face each other in the National Championship game on Monday, April 2.
“It’s kind of crazy for me, or for all of us, I think, because like coach said, we worked so hard,” added Michigan forward Moe Wagner who added 12 points, six rebounds and two steals.
“As a journey, we worked so hard for three years. You look at the next step in the journey, and sometimes you forget to look at the ultimate goal. Now you’re so close, and you’re actually going to the Final Four. So, yeah, I’m incredibly grateful to be part of such an amazing group.”