Michigan basketball: Moe Wagner leads Wolverines into NCAA title game

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 24: Moritz Wagner
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 24: Moritz Wagner /

The Michigan basketball team will play for the 2018 national title after defeating Loyola-Chicago in the Final Four’s first semifinal.

For a while it looked like the Michigan basketball team would be the next victim of Loyola-Chicago’s surprise NCAA Tournament run. The Ramblers may have Sister Jean, but the Wolverines have Moritz Wagner.

Wagner is about all Michigan had going in the first half, even as an early lead turned into a seven point deficit at the half. It was an uncharacteristic first half for the Wolverines. Whether jitters, rust or just one of those days, Michigan turned the ball, was cold from behind the arc and wasn’t making up for it by getting to the free throw line.

Put it all together and it was a 29-22 halftime lead for the Ramblers.

At first, it looked like the second half would be a lot like the first. The Loyola Chicago lead quickly reached ten but then some other Wolverines started to get into the action.

With some shots starting to fall, the Wolverines turned up the defensive pressure leading to turnovers. The Ramblers couldn’t keep pace with empty possessions and the game completely flipped. What was a 45-37 deficit with 11:25 remaining was a 54-47 advantage with 4:59 left to play.

After being shut out in the first half, Duncan Robinson knocked down a couple threes and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman got himself on the scoreboard and eventually finished with seven points. Both were instrumental in hitting free throws to ice the game and in doing so extend their college basketball careers one more game.

But the star of the night was unquestionably Moe Wagner. The precocious German was just about Michigan’s only offense early and maintained his strong play all night. A big key was Wagner’s ability to stay out of foul trouble, allowing him to stay on the floor to put on a truly special performance. Wagner was not only the game’s leading scorer with 24 points, but also its leading rebounder with 15.

Next: Wagner can lead Michigan to national championship

With the win there will be just one more game on the schedule, win or lose. It will be the national championship game on Monday night against either Villanova or Kansas, who meet in the second semifinal Saturday night.