Franz Wagner was selected eighth overall by the Orlando Magic. Photo by Brett Wilhelm/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS — The Michigan men’s basketball team rode its offense to reach the Sweet Sixteen. On Sunday, it used its defense to punch a ticket to the Elite Eight.

In a game they dominated at every stage, the Wolverines (23-4 overall, 14-3 Big Ten) downed Florida State (18-7), 76-58, to keep their season alive for at least one more game. 

From the beginning, that defense frustrated the Seminoles. Michigan forced 14 turnovers, including nine in the first half alone, and limited Florida State to 40% shooting from the field. In transition, the Wolverines capitalized on the Seminoles’ miscues, scoring 16 fastbreak points while surrendering just six. Florida State looked out of sync all night long, going on two separate scoreless stretches lasting over four minutes. The dominant defensive effort was something that Michigan coach Juwan Howard envisioned for his team from the day he took the job in 2019.

“Defense has been one of our staples of our identity as far as on the offensive end,” Howard said. “We have habits on how we developed it last year when I first arrived, and when we returned to the campus in June, first thing that we met as a staff, and then also the first meeting when we were able to have our first official practice, we talked about how we’re going to be a better defensive team.”

On the offensive end, the Wolverines got a lift from junior forward Brandon Johns Jr. Starting in just his fourth game of the season, Johns scored a season-best 14 points to lead the way, punctuated by a series of high-flying jams. On the defensive side, Johns drew two charges and notched a steal, coming through on both ends in the biggest game of his career.

“We always tell him that he can really be the best player out there when he steps on the court,” sophomore wing Franz Wagner said. “So we have huge confidence in Brandon. I think he does too. You can see, he played a stellar game today, got some key offensive rebounds, and those little things, I think, are very important when you try to win the championship.”

Wagner produced another all-around statline with 13 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, routinely scoring inside on crafty finishes and finding teammates inside of the dribble. 

“I think I always try to attack the basket, be aggressive,” Wagner said. “But like I said, I think all that only happens when we move the ball and don’t dribble too much. That’s when really everything opens up.”

Facing off against a Florida State team with an average height of 6-foot-7, Michigan dominated on the glass. Led by four from freshman center Hunter Dickinson, the Wolverines hauled in 11 offensive rebounds and scored 17 second-chance points off of those opportunities.

“Our guys came with a mindset,” Howard said. “We talked about it leading up to the game. We showed it on film. We also talked about it before the game, about we have to attack the offensive glass. We can’t sit back on our heels and leave it untouched.”

On the opposite side of the court, Michigan prevented the Seminoles from ever establishing an offensive flow. The Wolverines limited Florida State to a 5-for-20 shooting night from beyond the arc, and proved themselves to be disciplined inside as well, allowing the Seminoles to shoot just six free throws.

In the second half, Florida State appeared to gain momentum for the first time since early in the first half with its first two 3-pointers of the night. The Wolverines quickly ensured that any hope of a Seminole comeback would be relinquished quickly, countering with an and-one from graduate guard Mike Smith before senior center Austin Davis followed with two straight finishes inside to key a 7-0 spurt to push the lead back to 46-36. 

“I think you can see that out there on the court that people are really confident out there and just confident and comfortable within their role out there,” Wagner said.

In the game’s final moments, Howard called for a timeout and brought in his reserves. As freshman guard Zeb Jackson dribbled out the clock, the Wolverines clinched their 23rd victory of the season.

This one brought them one step closer to their ultimate goal.