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Michigan nips Florida State to reach Final Four

LOS ANGELES — Moe Wagner climbed the ladder, snipped the final strand and whipped the net around his head while thousands of Michigan’s West Coast fans roared.

The Wolverines hadn’t caused much disturbance to those nets at Staples Center during the West Region final. They also knew it didn’t matter, because Florida State troubled the twine even less.

When shots aren’t falling, Michigan knows it can rely on defense, discipline and tenacity. And by doing all the hard things, the Wolverines muscled their way to the Final Four.

Charles Matthews scored 17 points and Michigan earned its first Final Four berth since 2013 with a 58-54 victory over the Seminoles on Saturday night.

“I’ve never seen a team work so hard and be so connected on both ends of the floor,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Even when things do not go right on the offensive end, they were exceptional on defense.”

Wagner added 12 points as the Wolverines (32-7) earned their 13th consecutive victory by persevering through a defense-dominated second half despite shooting 4-for-22 from 3-point range.

After taking a 10-point lead on Duncan Robinson’s 3-pointer with 2:26 to play, Michigan’s lead dwindled to three before P.J. Savoy missed a potential tying 3-pointer for Florida State with 58 seconds left. The Wolverines held off a late charge from the Seminoles (23-12), who had already knocked off three higher-seeded opponents on their school’s longest NCAA Tournament run since 1993.

“We take pride in our defense, so we believe in ourselves,” said Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rakhman, who scored nine points on 3-of-9 shooting. “We knew we had to get stops. We weren’t making free throws. That comes with the game sometimes. We just had to continue to get stops.”

With tenacious defense and just enough made free throws down the stretch, Michigan hung on and advanced to San Antonio, Texas, next weekend to face the underdog heroes of Loyola-Chicago (32-5), who stunned the sport by winning the South Region.

The third-seeded Wolverines are much less of a surprise, but the achievement is no less impressive for Beilein’s squad, which wore its “Do More, Say Less” shirts throughout the week.

Michigan let its fans do the talking: The Wolverines had a distinct home-court advantage from thousands of vocal fans packed into the lower bowl of the Lakers’ and Clippers’ home arena, and they seemed to need all of those cheers to survive an off shooting night.

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