LOS ANGELES, Calif. — After too many defensive miscues, too many turnovers and too many misses in the first half against Florida State, all John Beilein could do was take a seat and cover his face.
A 27-point whooping of Texas A&M two days earlier didn’t mean a thing. The ninth-seeded Seminoles that Beilein hardly had time to scout were bringing everything the Aggies were supposed to have — length, athleticism and self-titled “junkyard defense” that stifled No. 3-seed Michigan. Calling a 27-26 halftime lead marred with carelessness a blessing hardly does it justice.
“(Florida State was) exceptional on defense,” Beilein said. “We had that string of plays where Moe (Wagner) was wide open, Charles (Matthews) is wide open, Duncan (Robinson) was wide open. … we might’ve rushed some shots, maybe we were a little bit tired.”
But this was game No. 39 this year for Beilein and the Wolverines, in a situation they’ve been in countless times. This was Michigan’s game. You didn’t need a betting line or a look into the history books to figure it out.
It wasn’t pretty — the two teams combined to shoot 35 percent with 26 turnovers — but the Wolverines found just enough offense and more than enough defense to turn the ugly into history. Michigan (32-7) outlasted Florida State, 58-54, to notch the most wins in program history and will its way to its second Final Four appearance in six seasons, where they will face this year’s Cinderella in Loyola-Chicago.
“The really good teams win in different ways,” Robinson said. “Even if our shots don’t fall, we can count on our energy and effort on defense. We were able to bring that tonight.
“You’ve gotta be really good, but you’ve also gotta have some luck. Whatever it is — basketball gods — we’re playing well right now.”
Added assistant coach Luke Yaklich: “This is basketball cloud nine. Everyday has been basketball Christmas Eve for me.”
In the first half, Michigan seemingly picked up where it left off from Thursday’s offensive onslaught against Texas A&M. A Matthews slam dunk and-one on his first possession ignited the pro-Wolverines crowd that packed Staples Center. Florida State couldn’t hold onto the ball. The Seminoles threw an early full-court press, and Michigan didn’t care — the Matthews show continued with an alley-oop and another and-one.
But when it seemed that Florida State would be another victim succumbing to a hostile environment and a suffocating defense, the Wolverines’ luster vanished.
The Seminoles swished where the Aggies couldn’t. Free throws off of a flagrant foul by Robinson capped a 7-0 lead that gave Florida State a 17-15 lead — Michigan’s first deficit since before Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beater to beat Houston a week ago. The teams exchanged leads four more times before the Wolverines entered halftime up one. As unpleasant as it was, it was what a back-and-forth affair with Final Four implications should have looked like.
“You’re just not satisfied,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “You know you can play so much better. They’re a great team, so they gave us trouble and threw things that we weren’t accustomed to. We just kept fighting and fighting for the next 20 minutes.”
The second half was a chaser for a first half that would’ve given any viewer a reason to take some Nyquil and sleep it off.
Up one with 17:47 remaining in the second half, redshirt sophomore Charles Matthews drained a 3-pointer that put the Wolverines up just four, but he skipped down the sideline on defense brandishing three fingers in the air with the swagger of someone who called game. He might as well have been waving goodbye to the Seminoles.
“We felt we were gonna catch fire at some point,” Yaklich said. “It was just the idea of staying with it defensively and grinding it out until we get our offensive run.”
Florida State kept hanging in with physicality in the paint and solid free-throw shooting — they finished the day 18-for-20 from the line. Even when it looked down and out, they kept it close.
Robinson, after failing to convert a field goal in the first half, drilled a corner 3-pointer to give Michigan its biggest lead of 10 with 2:25 to go. Perhaps then the Wolverines could have said goodbye.
“I hadn’t hit one all day, I was struggling,” Robinson said. “Felt like I was a little out of it, timid in the first half. My teammates and coaches got on me about it and I knew I had to respond in a way.”
But the Seminoles’ last-ditch effort effectively caused a scare. Free throws, then a trey by P.J. Savoy cut Michigan’s lead to just three, and it looked like the Wolverines’ free throw woes were going to finally catch up to them. Before two clean swishes by Robinson, Abdur-Rahkman and Zavier Simpson went 2-for-5 in the final 1:38 to bring the game to one possession.
But when Florida State looked poised to go on the run it needed, it was too little too late and the buzzer blared.
Beilein wasn’t covering his face anymore, he was taking a pair of scissors to a net. The nylon grasped firmly in his hands, the typically-stoic head coach yelled out “one more.”
It was his last wish for the season — cut down the nets again in San Antonio.