Defense carries Michigan to second Final Four of John Beilein's career

LOS ANGELES — A Michigan program long known for its breathtaking offense relied on a very different formula to reach the Final Four this year.

The Wolverines rode their fierce yet disciplined defense all the way to San Antonio.

In a gritty, physical West Regional final rife with bruises and floor burns, third-seeded Michigan outlasted ninth-seeded Florida State 58-54 on Saturday night. The Wolverines forced 14 turnovers in the first half and then held the Seminoles to 23.3 percent shooting after halftime, delighting a Staples Center crowd bathed 90 percent in maize and blue.

The turning point in the game arrived with seven minutes remaining when Florida State’s Trent Forrest attacked off the dribble in transition and drew a fourth foul on Michigan’s leading scorer and top big man Moritz Wagner. The Seminoles had a golden opportunity to erase a seven-point deficit, but the Wolverines instead extended their lead while Wagner sat.

Charles Matthews had a turnaround jumper in the lane. Zavier Simpson contributed a driving layup. By the time Duncan Robinson turned toward the Michigan bench and roared after draining a 3-pointer with less than three minutes to go, the Wolverines led by 10 and Wagner was still waiting at the scorer’s table to check back in.

It seemed all but over at that point, but never-say-die Florida State unfurled one last run aided by a slew of late missed Michigan free throws. PJ Savoy got a heavily contested look at a game-tying 3-pointer in the final minute, but that bounced off the back rim.

Seconds later, Robinson sealed the win for Michigan by knocking down a pair of free throws.

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Michigan defeats Florida State
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Michigan defeats Florida State
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 24: Zavier Simpson #3 of the Michigan Wolverines is defended by Braian Angola #11 of the Florida State Seminoles during the second half in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional Final at Staples Center on March 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 24: The Michigan Wolverines bench celebrates as their team takes on the Florida State Seminoles in the fourth round of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament held at Staples Center on March 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 24: Michigan Wolverines guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman #12 attempts the shot around Florida State Seminoles center Ike Obiagu #12 in the fourth round of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament held at Staples Center on March 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 24: Mfiondu Kabengele #25 of the Florida State Seminoles attempts a shot past Jon Teske #15 of the Michigan Wolverines during the second half in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional Final at Staples Center on March 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 24: Florida State Seminoles center Christ Koumadje #21 goes up for the block against Michigan Wolverines forward Isaiah Livers #4 in the fourth round of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament held at Staples Center on March 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 24: Duncan Robinson #22 of the Michigan Wolverines reacts in the second half while taking on the Florida State Seminoles in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional Final at Staples Center on March 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 24: Charles Matthews #1 of the Michigan Wolverines reacts after scoring a basket against the Florida State Seminoles during the second half in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional Final at Staples Center on March 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 24: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman #12 of the Michigan Wolverines reacts against the Florida State Seminoles in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional Final at Staples Center on March 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 24: Terance Mann #14 of the Florida State Seminoles walks off the court after losing to the Michigan Wolverines 58-54 in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional Final at Staples Center on March 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 24: Isaiah Livers #4 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates after defeating the Florida State Seminoles in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional Final at Staples Center on March 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. The Michigan Wolverines defeated the Florida State Seminoles 58-54. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 24: The Michigan Wolverines celebrate with the West Regional trophy after their 58-54 victory against the Florida State Seminoles in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional Final at Staples Center on March 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Michigan advanced to the Final Four for the eighth time in program history thanks in part to a friendly draw aided by a handful of massive upsets around them. Not only did the Wolverines not face a single team seeded fifth or better en route to the West Regional title, they’ll also be favored against South Regional champion Loyola in next Saturday night’s national semifinals.

That Michigan is back in the Final Four for the second time in the John Beilein era is a mild surprise considering the modest expectations for the program entering the season. The Wolverines started the season buried in the other’s receiving votes section of the AP Top 25 after losing three of their four leading scorers from last year’s 26-win Sweet 16 team.

Whereas most of Beilein’s best Michigan teams have been known for their spacing, skill and 3-point shooting, defense has been the hallmark of this year’s Wolverines. They only shot well in their Sweet 16 victory over Texas A&M on Thursday night, but their improved ball pressure and rebounding kept them alive.

The first half of Saturday’s game was a defensive clinic as both offenses seldom generated an uncontested look.

Florida State’s waves of swarming length and athleticism pressured Michigan on the perimeter, rotated quickly to shooters and dared the Wolverines to challenge the rim protectors in the paint off the dribble. Ike Obiagu had three of Florida State’s five first-half blocks and the Seminoles held Michigan to 7-for-21 shooting from the field.

You’d think Florida State would have at least held a halftime lead given those stats, but the Seminoles fared no better at the other end. They turned the ball over 14 times in the first half against Michigan’s ball pressure and did not generate a single fast-break point.

Related: Look back at the best photos from the Sweet 16: 

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The best photos from the Sweet 16
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The best photos from the Sweet 16
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 22: Cody Martin #11 of the Nevada Wolf Pack falls after saving the ball with a pass to Caleb Martin #10 in the second half against the Loyola Ramblers during the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at Philips Arena on March 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 22: PJ Washington #25 of the Kentucky Wildcats goes up with the ball against Amaad Wainright #23 and Makol Mawien #14 of the Kansas State Wildcats in the second half during the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at Philips Arena on March 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22: Charles Matthews #1 of the Michigan Wolverines drives on DJ Hogg #1 of the Texas A&M Aggies in the second half in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Staples Center on March 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 22: Jordan Caroline #24 of the Nevada Wolf Pack and Lucas Williamson #1 of the Loyola Ramblers battle for the rebound during the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at Philips Arena on March 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Loyola Ramblers defeated the Nevada Wolf Pack 69-68. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22: Terance Mann #14 of the Florida State Seminoles goes up for a shot against Rui Hachimura #21 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Staples Center on March 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 22: Jarred Vanderbilt #2 of the Kentucky Wildcats calls a timeout late in the second half against Kevin Knox #5 and PJ Washington #25 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at Philips Arena on March 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22: Josh Perkins #13 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs reacts after being fouled in the first half agaisnt the Florida State Seminoles in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Staples Center on March 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 22: Marques Townes #5 of the Loyola Ramblers reacts after making a late three point basket in the second half against the Nevada Wolf Pack during the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at Philips Arena on March 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman #12 of the Michigan Wolverines goes up for a shot against Tyler Davis #34 of the Texas A&M Aggies in the first half in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Staples Center on March 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 23: Justin Gray #5 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders dunks the ball during the second half against the Purdue Boilermakers in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at TD Garden on March 23, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 23: Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats shoots the ball during the second half against Esa Ahmad #23 of the West Virginia Mountaineers in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at TD Garden on March 23, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 23: Sagaba Konate #50 of the West Virginia Mountaineers reacts on the bench during the second half against the Villanova Wildcats in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at TD Garden on March 23, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 22: PJ Washington #25 of the Kentucky Wildcats handles the ball against Cartier Diarra #2 of the Kansas State Wildcats in the first half during the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at Philips Arena on March 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Charles Matthews helped Michigan gain some separation early in the second half with a driving layup and a 3-pointer off a deft shot fake. That keyed an 11-0 surge that ended with Zavier Simpson turning a Mfiondu Kabengele miss into an outlet pass to a cherrypicking Duncan Robinson for a transition layup.

As the Staples Center crowd roared in approval and Michigan players jumped up and down in the huddle, Beilein motioned for the Wolverines to calm down because a 10-point lead was hardly insurmountable.

Beilein was right, of course. Florida State scrapped until the final buzzer to pull off one more upset, but Michigan had just enough fight left to hold off that bid.

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