Let’s Go Blue chants filled the arena in Los Angeles Thursday evening, as Wolverine fans were in for a treat in the first game of the Sweet 16 Western Regional at Staples Center before 19,181 in attendance.
Wolverine freshman guard Jordan Poole buried an unbelievable game-winning last second three-point basket at the buzzer in their previous game to defeat Houston to advance to the Sweet 16.
Third-seeded Michigan was clearly still riding off momentum Thursday night, converting 10 three-pointers in the first half on 62.5 percent shooting, as they went on to fully dismantle seventh-seeded Texas A&M 99-72.
The (22-13) Aggies committed 10 turnovers through the first 20 minutes of play, while (31-7) Michigan only committed one and assisted on 14 made field-goals.
“We had 14 assists and one turnover in the first half,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “We were very good, and they just had a bad day.”
“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.”
Senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the Wolverines in scoring with 24 points, seven assists and five rebounds while Moritz Wagner added 21 points, going perfect from behind three-point distance.
With the Wolverines already leading 12-6 early on in the first half, Michigan then went on a 32-12 run to take a commanding 44-18 lead, as the Aggies were completely distraught.
Senior Wolverines guard Duncan Robinson added to another run, as he drilled a three-pointer that gave Michigan its largest lead of the game 52-23, with still 2:16 left in the half.
“Felt like we ran into a buzz saw,” said Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy. “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.”
For the Aggies, junior forward Tyler Davis finished with 24 points and eight rebounds, while sophomore and future potential NBA lottery pick, Robert Williams added 12 points and six rebounds.
The second half was better for Texas A&M, as pulled within 18, 79-61, with 6:01 to go after Jay Chandler added a layup.
However, the Wolverines responded right back with a three-pointer by Abdur-Rahkman, pushing the Seminoles deficit back to 21 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.”
In the second game of the night, fourth-seeded Gonzaga took on ninth-seeded Florida State, where the Seminoles looked pull off another upset and advance to the Elite Eight for just their third time in school history.
The (23-11) Seminoles held the (32-5) Zags to 33.9 percent shooting, as Gonzaga look completely uncomfortable and out of sync, as Florida State turned their defense into offense and went on to cruise past the Zags 75-60 in the West Region Semifinal.
“It’s interesting that we probably are the only ones who believe that we’re capable of doing this and it’s fun because we’re overcoming,” said Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton.
“We’re always the underdog. We’re always clawing and scratching and scratching and clawing, just trying to put ourselves in position where we feel that we’re capable of going.”
The Seminoles started the game with a 16-6 run as freshman Ike Obiagu slammed home a thunderous dunk that forced the Zags into an early timeout.
Gonzaga responded with a 20-7 run of their own to take a 26-23 lead with 6:30 left in the first half, only to give the lead right back after the Seminoles ended the half on a 18-6 run, taking a 41-32 halftime lead after Brandon Allen converted a three-pointer just before the buzzer rang.
Seminoles junior guard Terance Mann was the only Florida State player who reached double-figures with 18 points as Gonzaga had trouble on the defensive end due balanced-efforts from the Seminoles.
“I’m sure there was a lot of nines and eights and sevens and fives on that box score?” asked Mann, as five Seminoles did indeed contribute at least seven points apiece.
“It’s just about whoever’s on the court is going to give you their whole effort. It’s amazing to be on a team like this and know that if you’re not doing it, somebody else will pick you up.”
Florida State went on to outscore Gonzaga’s bench, 30-6, as they truly missed versatile sophomore forward Killian Tillie, who was unable to play after reaggravating his hip.
“Losing Killian was really big for us,” said Zach Norvell Jr. who added 14 points for the Zags.
“He supported us the whole way and wasn’t negative at all.”
Gonzaga was led by sophomore Rui Hachimura with 16 points, while senior guard Josh Perkins added nine points.
It was a game of runs and the Seminoles knew exactly when to go them as they put the nail in the coffin against the Zags, leading 59-54 with 5:22 left in the second half.
Florida State locked down defensively and only allowed the Gonzaga to score six points in the final five minutes, as the Seminoles ended the game on a 16-6 run capped off by a dunk from Mfiondu Kabengele, giving them 75-60 upset win.
“What we have to do now is not allow ourselves to get too far ahead of ourselves, “said Hamilton.
“The most important thing is for us to stay dialed in together and make sure that we’re focused and understand the team that has the right mental approach more than likely will be the team that’s going to be successful.”