On Saturday, a 10-point lead for the Wolverines with just over two minutes left nearly vanished. Florida State rallied to within 2 points but misfired on a 3-pointer that would have tied it.
The Wolverines took command quickly at the start of the game. About the only misstep before the first TV timeout, with Michigan on top by 10-4, came when Zavier Simpson comically threw up an unanswered prayer of a 3-point attempt over the elongated arm of Christ Koumadje, who is 16 inches taller.
“We lost to a team that was a little more poised than we were tonight. At the beginning of the game, we were a bit too anxious,” Florida State Coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We just couldn’t get in a good offensive rhythm.”
The lead eventually flipped to Florida State on a 5-point possession, consisting of a 3-pointer by P.J. Savoy and two Braian Angola free throws that resulted from a flagrant foul. If not for 14 turnovers in the first half, the Seminoles might have forged a lead of more than 4 points, their high for the night.
Moritz Wagner, usually Michigan’s most prolific scorer, found Florida State’s towering, rangy defenders troubling. Though 6-foot-11, Wagner got scarce looks at the basket and did not have a field goal by halftime. He did manage five free throws, the last two restoring Michigan’s lead, 27-26, entering the break.
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Florida State’s bench was largely responsible for the mini-comeback in the second half. The backups, collectively known as the Boom Squad, are so effective that the program’s Sixth Man Award last season was awarded to the entire unit.
The Wolverines strategically went to Wagner to open the second half. His prompt layup set off a reprise of the game’s early minutes. When Duncan Robinson, a transfer from Williams College in Division III, dropped in a layup, it was 38-28, Florida State having scored just 2 points through the half’s first six minutes.
Then the Seminoles’ Phil Cofer scored 5 points within a minute, 4 on a pair of assists from Angola assists, and the lead eventually dwindled to 3.
The Michigan advantage was restored to a safe 10 on a Robinson 3-pointer with 2 minutes 14 seconds remaining.
Ultimately, the difference was Charles Matthews’s 17 points, which helped make up for Wagner’s low total of 12, and the defense, which limited Florida State to a season-low score.
“The effort we spent to close out on him, that opened up some opportunities for other guys,” Hamilton said of Wagner, normally a 40 percent shooter on 3s who was 0 for 7 and managed three baskets in all.
At halftime, Beilein said he noted his team’s poor shooting and thought: “That might change in the second half, but at the same time, we have to understand that we might not make shots. We’re still going to win the game with our defense.”