INDIANAPOLIS – This past March Michigan arrived at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to finish their season before they could play a game. Back in the building on Sunday night, the Wolverines kept their season alive.
Michigan crushed Florida 76-58 to advance to the elite eight of the NCAA tournament.
The Wolverines ended the Florida State offense in the paint and outside of the arc, they found cracks in an aggressive defense and they turned what appeared to be a competitive game into their biggest explosion in over three weeks.
Michigan, the 1-seeded in the Eastern Region, will play for a spot in the Final Four on Tuesday night against the winner of the 2-seeded Alabama against 11 UCLA, also contested Sunday night. Tuesday’s game will be played at nearby Lucas Oil Stadium, where Michigan has played three times in this playoff. The tip time will be announced on Sunday evening.
The Wolverines got there with dominant defense and a balanced score, strength all season. Their preparation before and their execution during this game were fully on display. They were leading by 12 at halftime and used a 12-2 run over a four-minute stretch midway through the second half to gain full control.
Hunter Dickinson and Brandon Johns Jr. scored 14 apiece, Franz Wagner had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Chaundee Brown added 12 points off the bench. Wagner’s defense in particular was impressive.
The 4-seeded Seminoles shot 40 percent. One of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, they missed their first nine attempts at long range and finished 5 of 20 at depth. Michigan won the turnover battle (committing nine to 14 for Florida State), grabbed more offensive rebounds and fired 17 more free throws.
Michigan was only 3 of 11 of 3, but that didn’t matter.
Last season Michigan came to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home of the NBA Pacers, for the Big Ten Tournament. Minutes before the start of their opener, the Wolverines were taken off the ground as the event was called off due to COVID-19 concerns. The NCAA tournament would soon suffer the same fate.
Michigan is making the most of its opportunity in March.
The Wolverines, playing their fourth straight Sweet 16, reached the regional final for the first time since 2018, the year they beat Florida State to advance to the Final Four.
After four lazy first minutes on Sunday, Michigan used defense to increase the intensity. Johns landed a pass down midfield and dunked it. Michigan broke the Florida state press as of right and Johns got soaked again, this time off of a Wagner drive and food. Scottie Barnes scored twice off the bench for Florida State and it was 9-8 in Michigan when Howard called the time out with 13:28 left to bring in Chaundee Brown and Ausin Davis.
Michigan proceeded to a 10-0 run. Florida State also threw out of bounds passes and missed a 3. On the other end, Wagner hit a pair of free throws, Smith rocked his defenseman before making a 3, and Brown knocked down a corner triple. It was Leonard Hamilton’s turn to call the timeout. Michigan kept getting arrested. Davis grabbed an offensive board and placed it to take it to 19-8 before Florida State ended its four-minute-plus drought. Turnover was a problem for the Seminoles; they had nine in the first 13.5 minutes.
Three back-to-back Dickinson baskets on the inside – first against two defensemen, second against one and third against none – went 27-14 with 4:45 left in the half. Two minutes later, Brown grabbed Michigan’s eighth offensive rebound and converted the layup. Florida State scored last but Michigan led 32-21 at the half. Florida State starting center RaiQuan Gray played just three minutes after committing two early fouls.
Florida State, after missing its first nine 3-pointers, hit back-to-back threes to reduce Michigan’s margin to 41-36 five minutes into the second period. Smith (who finished with eight points and four assists against two turnovers) responded with one and one, a scoop on the glass as he was sent to the bridge. Davis followed up with two baskets on well-crafted and well-executed post feeds, and Michigan’s lead quickly fell to 12.
Davis returned the favor with a nice basic rebound pass to a cutting brown for a layup. Smith delivered another and one in transition, and although he missed the free throw, Michigan led 56-41 with 9:48 to go. Two straight layups from Wagner and a dunk from Dickinson pushed him to 19. The pro-Michigan crowd exploded as a good ball swing drove a Brown 3 who went 65-46 with 5:16 left.
Florida State never came close to 17. Michigan’s last points came on an old-fashioned three-point game from Jace Howard, son of head coach Juwan Howard.