Michigan defeated Loyola-Chicago on Saturday to secure its spot in the NCAA Tournament final. The Wolverines are in their seventh-ever national championship game, where they’ll play the winner of Kansas-Villanova.
Here’s what Moe Wagner, Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole coach John Beilein had to say after the game:
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Michigan head coach John Beilein and student-athletes Jordan Poole, Charles Matthews and Moe Wagner. Coach, an opening statement.
COACH BEILEIN: We’re just elated to get a win like that and the way we did it. We see some really good defenses in the Big Ten, really good. I would argue it’s the best defensive league in the country.
And we saw some great defense. They’re a little bit smaller at the forward positions or at some of the positions and they can really get in to you and guard. And they really gave us problems in the first half. They rotated so quickly. And this has been our dilemma all year long: How are people going to guard a shooting 5? And we have to adjust as the game goes on. We didn’t adjust very well.
But the second half, after we saw how — their actions and then we needed to make some shots, we couldn’t make them for a while but then we did. And our young guys came in there, all of a sudden we took off like crazy. Everybody is really happy, and we’re ready to move on to the next game, whoever it is.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Wanted to ask Moe Wagner about the second half performance. Seemed like Loyola tried to transition and kick you out to get more of a jump shot, and it was kind of effective in the first half. But it seemed like you really got to transition into that in the second half. Could you talk about that performance for the second half?
MOE WAGNER: I don’t think I understood the question. You’re talking about our performance or their performance?
Q. Your performance, in particular. The defensive shift, they tried to kick you out and tried to force more jump shots versus offensive rebounds and putbacks.
MOE WAGNER: Yeah, it worked out in the first half because they switched, a lot of ball screens. I had a lot of easy offensive rebounds and they just happened to occur. The second half, we ran a little more set plays just because we were in front our bench, so it’s easy to call. And our offense was a lot more organized. It just happened to be like that.
Q. Moe, there have only been three players ever that have had at least 20 points and 15 rebounds in a national semifinal — Hakeen Olajuwon, Larry Bird and now you. When did you know this was going to be your night?
MOE WAGNER: Wow. If you put it like that, that’s it’s probably cool. But to be honest, I kept looking possession by possession, we had trouble scoring the first half. We scored 22 points and that was kind of the only way we found our way to the basket, grab offensive rebounds and get second-shot opportunities.
And I honestly just tried to do my job. The shots were falling the second half. It’s a lot more fun when the ball goes to the net. And, yeah, it’s just worked out that way.
Q. Moe, you went off the elevated court twice tonight. I think that’s a Final Four record. But can you explain how you were able to use your energy defensively, because you got your hands on a lot of passing lanes, a lot of loose balls?
MOE WAGNER: I knew they were trying to punch us — first of all, you’ve got to give them a lot of credit; their set plays are incredible. Tough to guard. And their big man does an incredible job down there as a freshman.
So we had to cover that somehow defensively, and I tried to do my job, tried not to foul and stay solid, build walls and grab rebounds. And it worked out.
Q. Jordan, as a freshman on this stage you guys trailed by 10 in that second half. They were guarding you really tough. What was the turning point as you saw it and what was your role in that turning point?
JORDAN POOLE: I just tried to come in and provide a spark. It was a little bit hard for us to get open looks. But being able to be solid, and Coach preaches it all the time, and being able to just run all the right plays and everything started to open up.
But also bringing positive energy on the offensive side and defensive side. We kind of started getting guys going and Duncan was able to hit shots and Moe was able to hit shots. And we’re a team that feeds off momentum, so when we were able to get the momentum going in our direction everything started to go in the right way.
Q. Moe, a lot has been written this week, you guys may be playing the villain, knocking these guys, they’ve had a great run, Cinderella story. Talk about that beating a very good team that was a national story.
MOE WAGNER: Gotta get some reps (to Matthews). (Laughter) Like I said, you gotta give them a lot of credit. I don’t really like the saying “Cinderella story,” because it always includes somehow that they’re not supposed to be there. And the way they’re playing it’s incredible.
So, offensively very, very good, and defensively so solid, so they definitely deserve to be here. And so efficient. And so it’s really tough to guard. And the whole villain thing, you guys love to write about it, talk about it, but at the end of the day it’s just basketball, you know? And we just try to win. That’s all we do.
CHARLES MATTHEWS: To piggyback off what Moe said, we don’t get into those headlines at this team. We just come out here and play basketball. We never looked at the team as a Cinderella team. It’s like 300-something Division I teams, and they’re one of the last four standing. That’s no Cinderella story. We respected them and we knew we had to come out and execute against them.
Q. Charles, about midway through the first half, Loyola seemed to gain some momentum. What was it you were seeing from their defense that presented a challenge and how did you overcome that challenge?
CHARLES MATTHEWS: I think this team, we understand that it’s a game of runs. And we’re not going to get rattled. We’ve been down before. I think the first game of the tournament we started down like down by 10-0 lead, and we just stayed the course. We weren’t going to be rattled by them pressuring us and we missed some shots.
Q. Jordan, after the game, looked like you ran down after Sister Jean and said something to her. What was that and why did you do it?
JORDAN POOLE: I told her I was a big fan. She got those guys — she had their back the entire time and everybody talks about them being the Cinderella story, and she was getting a lot of attention. But being able to build a fan base how she did, and being able to have Loyola have so many fans out here and travel well, and I just thought the entire concept and everything that she brought to the table, and being able to have such a big impact on the team, being in a situation like this, I thought it was amazing.
Like the kids don’t really get to live in opportunities like this, so having those guys being able to do it and her being behind their back, I thought that was pretty cool.
Q. Could you encapsulize Coach Beilein’s visit when he came over there and how you found college basketball, to recruit you?
MOE WAGNER: Yeah, I mean that was obviously pretty cool for me, because I watched this my entire childhood, this Final Four here. And I knew him from the final game. And, yeah, it’s kind of crazy now, we’re in it together.
And I had no idea back then. So as a little kid, to see him in my living room, come over during the preseason, October, that’s something really special for a couple of hours, just to meet my family and see where I’m from, that’s really cool. And it’s a really cool story.
Q. After Coach put in Jordan and Isaiah, you guys seemed to really have a lift. And he hit a baseline and you came right after him. Could you feel the energy change that maybe the spark that those two guys brought on to add to what you were bringing?
CHARLES MATTHEWS: Yeah, the Drip Boys are full of swag, that’s what they call themselves. They bring instant energy, especially this kid here. This is my roommate, so I’ve got my hands tied with him the whole trip long.
But, like I said, he worked so hard on his game, I see him night in night out, the stress he brings to himself because he cares so much. But I’m just happy to see him perform so well on the big stage, the way he did.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach.
Q. Coach, down 10, second half, you’ve got a resilient group. You’ve overcome deficits before. What was the key, what was the turning point in this instance?
COACH BEILEIN: I think our defense created some turnovers. I don’t think we had any fastbreak points out of it, but we just stopped them. They’re really difficult at this time in front of their bench, calling their plays. They run some great action. And they were going to get to some stuff.
And we made a concerted effort to take away the 3, and a little bit like an Isaac Haas type of idea, where that kid’s going to get two on Moe, but we’re not going to give these great 3-point shooters, they make seven a game, we limited them to one.
But the steals were really big, just to stop the possessions. And then they didn’t get too many second-half chances. So we had 10 steals. We average six a game. That was the big difference in the game.
Q. What’s it like to face Cinderella, and you’ve been around this an awful long time, and some teams just have magic on their side. How do you deal with magic?
COACH BEILEIN: I don’t know if they had magic on their side. They’re good. They wouldn’t be here if they were not good. And they beat a Kansas State team that just beat Kentucky. Miami is a very good team.
They’re good — in the NCAA Tournament, everybody is on a neutral floor. And it’s so even. And they don’t get the opportunity to play home games against schools like Michigan. And they probably never will. And so as a result, they’re good but people don’t know how good they are until you see them out there.
So they stopped being a Cinderella when they got to the 16, to me, as an 11 seed. The NCAA committee has such a difficult time doing this and everybody can’t be a 1 through 4, but there’s so little difference between the 4 seed and the 13 seed. It’s much smaller a difference than you would think, the numbers.
Q. John, talk about the game that Moe had, especially that first half, because he really saved you.
COACH BEILEIN: Yeah.
Q. Without him, the first half you may have been in a little bit of trouble?
COACH BEILEIN: We had eight turnovers in the first half. We were one and eight. I don’t think you’ve ever seen one of our teams ever be one assist to eight turnovers. We went 2-for-5 at the foul line. And they came out and we — I shouldn’t say we didn’t expect it; we had to adjust to how quickly they were rotating to some of our action, because they were switching so much, Moe just went down. That’s where I think he got his three offensive rebounds. That’s the only way we really scored.
And anybody that fouls Michigan wouldn’t say, hey, they’re going to kill you on the offensive boards. But because they’re switching, we said, Moe, you’ve just got to roll more, slip more, and get down there and clean up any rebounds you can get because they’ve got a 6-foot guy on you.
Q. And ended up with a double-double?
COACH BEILEIN: Yeah. And so they say that’s what’s going to bless him for a career after he’s done with college is rebounding was not a strength with him. Now, for him to get 15 rebounds like he did, that’s a great step for him. It’s a work in progress.
Q. When you went with Isaiah and Jordan, was the idea that we are longer and more athletic than you and we have to make that the advantage since nothing else at this point is —
COACH BEILEIN: Muhammad just wasn’t himself. I think he was 0-for-7 in the first half. He missed some wide-open shots.
I know one guy that would want to take those shots and that was Jordan Poole. And Duncan as well. I just said if he’s not making these shots right now, he’s not going to make them as the game goes on. So I felt both of them just needed a little bit of rest.
And then when we started to turn things, they said, okay, leave them in there — because Muhammad is really an elite defender and Duncan’s better at understanding the scheme.
But I kept going to my assistants, saying, you want to go back with him? They said, no, the young boys are getting it done, because they’re just growing defensively. They can’t even come close to understanding what the upper classmen are doing, but they still got it done and it was great.
Q. Coach, you talk about Loyola being here because they’re good. But realistically if they didn’t win their automatic bid they might not have even had a chance. Can you talk about your thoughts on mid-major programs getting overlooked by the committee?
COACH BEILEIN: I think the committee continues to look at all this, and we need more — if the mid-majors want to have the committee to look at — the committee will do the right thing. As a result they made it here, and we’ve seen this with VCU and Wichita State and George Mason. It’s going to happen.
The more it happens the more they’ll do that. I’ve got so much respect for the guys in that room, and it’s not an easy job. And maybe they’re going to look at ways to change that, some ideas I have, you have a losing record in a power conference you probably shouldn’t go. That’s something that people should think about.
Or make us play one home-and-home with someone else. But there’s a huge revenue stream here that we will lose with that. So there’s a lot of things that go into it besides this. The big thing is they need to win games and go beat us on the road, right? But I don’t know too many people that will want to go play Loyola anymore.
Q. Loyola has really made a tournament run by shooting really well from 3-point line. They only went 1-for-10 in this game. Is that something you concentrated on and how did you stop it?
COACH BEILEIN: If you look at our numbers, we’re one of the best — we started it last year when we went on a run — of really trying to shut down the 3 ball. And as a result it’s really worked well for us. So our goal is not let people get the number that they get. They were averaging, I think, seven in the tournament. We average about nine, nine makes.
They held us under our number, but we really held them under their number. And we’re not alone on that. A lot of teams do that as part of their plan. And we’ve got guys who can do that, too. You’ve got to have guys that can do that.
Q. Looking ahead to Monday night, any thoughts on Villanova or Kansas?
COACH BEILEIN: (Chuckling) no. None. I’m just like this, I treat this — with more experience maybe (indiscernible). My assistants have been working on those two teams, but probably by 5.00 a.m., I’ll be up tomorrow and by 10:00 I’ll be able to tell you something. But for right now, I am just going to worry about — they’re both great teams, great coaches, who knows what’s going to happen.
Q. You talked about the strength of schedule and Porter Moser even said it’s hard to get teams to play mid-major programs. Would you want to potentially play Loyola in the future?
COACH BEILEIN: We’re always looking for opportunities to play good home-and-homes. But, again, we lose a lot of money when we go on the road to play. And as a result there’s a lot of implications. And that money, Michigan, every power conference needs.
So as a result, that’s something that we’ve always done and we’ve been very aggressive at looking to play good road games. But I would always consider that. If Sister Jean asks me, I might even have a better chance of it happening.
Q. Chicago is pretty close to Michigan.
COACH BEILEIN: It is. But we play Northwestern, we do get a pretty good crowd there as well.
Q. You talked about before putting some of the younger guys in — Jordan, Eli, even Ibi. You not only changed personnel, but it seemed like the offensive philosophy changed a little. It wasn’t just Jordan, but Charles and even Eli seemed to drive a little bit more than the perimeter-based. Was that by intention, I don’t want to say desperation, but were you trying to mix things up?
COACH BEILEIN: We’ve been playing all year and we’re going to give what people give us. And if they’re going to take the 3-point shot away, then we have to drive the ball into the gaps. And that’s something we’ve been working on all year long. And frankly we’ve gotten better at it.
But some kids come in, you have no idea. They play off one foot all the time, and they’re up — they just have no idea how to do this. But you watch, Muhammad-Ali does it well. Xavier, while he didn’t have a great game today he did a great job down the stretch for us.
It’s things we still have to work on. We want to be versatile enough to do whatever people try to take away from us, we’ll go to the opposite.
Q. Second time in six seasons you’ve been to the championship game. Two very different teams that have gotten there. How would you compare and contrast the challenge of getting this team here compared to that one?
COACH BEILEIN: I think this team has been really, we have been very fortunate. That team would have won another Big Ten Championship if the ball didn’t roll off the rim against Indiana. We had a injury to Jordan Morgan in that season that, even though Jordan did not play well even at the end of the year because he was still really injured, that really shook us up when we lost to an 0-13 Penn State team, at Penn State that year, that really rallied us.
So that team probably had, because they started out 19-0 had more to, had so much attention, it overwhelmed them a little bit in February. This team’s had no attention at all. Until we went up to beat Michigan State we weren’t nationally ranked. Now we’re playing on Monday night.
This team is very appreciative. On that team we had some guys that turned out to be pros. But I’ll tell you when we played that Monday night nobody knew Caris LeVert or Nik Stauskas would be first-round draft choices.
So we’ve just been able to just help this team grow and who knows what we have out there? But the whole idea is these kids have played well, played together, just like that team