Coming off of wins on Thursday, Michigan and Florida State met on Friday in San Juan despite most people expecting the Wolverines to face Shaka Smart's VCU Rams. Tonight's game proved that sometimes the unexpected yields the most excitement.
The Seminoles had other ideas, scoring a statement 85-67 statement win yesterday. Needless to say, while that game was technically an "upset," it became clear that Michigan would have its hands full against a very good basketball team.
The Wolverines' hands were full indeed in the first half. The Seminoles gained an 8-point lead almost halfway through the first half, and went into the break up 37-27. John Beilein's squad had no answer for FSU G Ian White, who shot 6-for-7 from the field (3-for-4 from 3-point land), and F Okaro White scored 10 points of his own on 4-for-5 shooting.
Meanwhile, Mitch McGary led the way in the first half with eight points on 4-for-6 shooting while Derrick Walton pitched in seven on on 2-for-5 shooting (2-for-3 from three). Michigan scored at 0.94 points per possession in the first half and shot just 36.7% from the field; both of those figures would have to improve if the Wolverines planned on digging their way out of that 10-point halftime deficit.
Things didn't start much better in the second half, as the Seminoles scored the first six points of the second frame to extend their lead to 16. The Wolverines were cold and flustered on the offensive end, and couldn't keep the 'Noles from scoring in the paint at the other end. Interior defense and offensive production outside of the 3-point shot will likely continue to be at the top of Michigan's agenda for improvement as this team grows into its new skin in 2013-14.
Florida State looked to be the quicker, more explosive squad, as the Wolverines continued to fire away and miss from the perimeter.
After another class Mitch McGary pass in transition to an open Nik Stauskas in the corner, Michigan cut the lead to just six with just over 10 minutes remaining. For the first time in a while, the Wolverines had life.
Shortly thereafter, McGary made another great play, first blocking a shot at the rim then a steal that triggered a fast break for the Wolverines. On that break, Glenn Robinson gave Spike Albrecht a drop pass at the top of the key, allowing Albrecht to rise and fire. With the trey, Michigan had cut the lead to four, and the game had clearly taken on an extra layer of oomph after it had languished in the haze of pseudo-blowout-land for some time.
Part of Michigan's success came from the fact that Ian Miller, after scoring 16 in the first half, was held scoreless in the first 12 minutes of the second. At the same time, the Wolverines were simply shooting the ball better (see: getting better looks) at the other end; at the 8-minute media timeout mark, the Wolverines had upped their field goal percentage to 43.5% (36.7% at the half).
The tempo picked up once again, but this time the Wolverines found themselves down nine once again. To make matters worse, McGary picked up his fourth foul with 4:23 to play on what was initially called a tie-up (Michigan had the possession arrow).
Down seven with under two minutes to go, Michigan went with some weave action up top, eventually freeing Robinson up for an open trey, which he buried, cutting the deficit to four with 1:46 left. Florida State looked like the better, bouncier team all game, but the Wolverines had a chance to steal the win late with a couple of big plays.
Michigan actually deployed the 1-3-1 zone, especially late, resulting in an FSU turnover and a 1-and-1 at the other end for Robinson. The 1-3-1 hasn't been a real option for most of Beilein's time in Ann Arbor, but with the length Michigan has, perhaps that could change this season. Regardless, the 1-3-1 will not be a substitute for lackluster interior defense in man-to-man.
The two squads then traded trips to the free throw line. Once again, Michigan was down two, this time with 48 seconds left. Michigan stuck with the zone look; FSU clanked a corner three, giving Michigan a shot to tie or win with 11.1 seconds to go.
Somehow, the 'Noles allowed Stauskas to drive left for an easy layup to tie. In the ensuing chaos, FSU stepped out of bounds with 2.2 seconds left, giving Michigan a chance to win it. McGary wasn't able to convert, and the two teams headed into overtime, the Wolverines carrying every bit of the momentum, if you are a believer in that intangible sports voodoo.
Michigan picked up the first bucket of the OT period, a Robinson swish from the right side, but FSU tied it with a putback dunk. Stauskas responded with a three from Mississauga to give the Wolverines a 3-point lead, delighting the seemingly heavily pro-Michigan crowd.
As anyone who has watched every game so far can tell you, there were initial questions about who Michigan's go-to guy in late game situations would be this season, post-Burke. As of now, Nik Stauskas has answered the call. Every shot and every drive to the hoop from the Canadian sophomore is fearless. Stauskas finished with 26 points on 7-for-16 shooting.
Stauskas continued to attack the rack, leading a string of trips to the line. (On that note, Stauskas continues to "struggle" from the line this season, by his standards. He is currently shooting 72% from the charity stripe.)
Michigan got one final stop late, up 80-77, and Walton went to the other end looking to seal the deal. The freshman point guard buried both, but an FSU three after Caris LeVert traveled gave the 'Noles life.
Walton then went to the line again, where he missed the front end. The freshman stepped to the line once again, and missed once again. Fortunately for Walton, FSU's desperation heave rocketed well off target, and the Wolverines escaped with an 82-80 win, moving to 4-1 on the season. The Wolverines did not play a consistent 40 minutes of basketball leading up to the overtime period, but the simple fact of victory is encouraging for a young squad still trying to figure things out, especially against a talented Florida State team.
The Wolverines take on Charlotte in the tournament final on Sunday at 6:30; the 49ers defeated Northeastern 86-77 in the other semifinal matchup.