The Michigan basketball team led by as many as 16 points before holding off a feisty Minnesota team that cut the lead to 3 with less than a minute left in regulation.
But Derrick Walton Jr. calmly hit 4 free throws in the final minute to help the Wolverines to an 84-77 win against the Golden Gophers in a Big Ten Tournament semifinal Saturday at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Walton led Michigan with a career-best 29 points, and Moritz Wagner added 17.
Michigan has won four straight games and nine of its last 11. On Sunday, the Wolverines will play in their first Big Ten title game since 2014, when they lost to Michigan State 69-55.
Here’s what Michigan coach John Beilein said following the win Saturday.
On Walton’s play in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal (via CBS Sports)
“He’s been unbelievable. I pick players to ride to the airport with me when we’re flying, it just happened to be Derrick that day. That was the biggest thing that stood out to me. ‘Coach, we’re going to go win this tournament. We’re going to win the tournament.’ He wasn’t thinking that we were on the bubble, he wanted to win the tournament. Same approach to practice every day — ‘I’m going to be the practice player ever so I can be the best player in the game.’ That’s exactly what he does.”
On Michigan’s fast start (the Wolverines led 23-9 less than 7 minutes in)
“It was another day that, as a coaching staff, you had opportunities to really appreciate your team many times during the year, and that was a great opportunity to sit back and watch them play ball again. The first 5-10 minutes, with a simple game plan, a few plays we just put in this morning that were just options to look at, all the sudden they were making everything work.
“What I liked best is they played connected again. It was just a gutty performance. When Minnesota made that run to come back, Derrick, Zak (Irvin) put the team on their back and we got the W.”
On what he saw when Minnesota tied the game at 55-55
“Here is what I saw. I’ll tell you exactly what I told the team. That timeout was nothing to do with basketball. For the first time all year I saw us bickering at each other. Somebody didn’t play defense, somebody backed out, somebody didn’t run a cut right. That’s what that timeout was about.
On what he told his team in that timeout
“We talked to each other. ‘Listen, forget basketball right now. We’re the most connected team. Now you’re disconnecting. You’re not going to win.’
“Tomorrow, postseason, that can happen again. You have to stay connected during that time. There was no yelling or screaming. ‘Settle down, we know what we have to do. Let’s guard defense, let’s be together as a team.’
“It’s a great lesson for them going forward.
On having an environment that felt like a home-court advantage
“Wherever we have gone, if we play in New York, it feels like a home game. The East Coast, right? Michigan has so many great alums, so much support in that part of the country. A lot of schools in the Big Ten have that. I just think Michigan is really special, that we have so many students coming from there, so much interest there.
“It was really nice to have that support. I could hear it. I think with Maryland knocked out, some people might have been rooting for an interesting, unique story behind us being there. It’s easier, probably, for people to adopt us in those situations. When we were playing in New York, it felt like a home game.”