ATLANTA – Don’t call these guys the Fab Five.
Michigan’s latest group of young stars is determined to leave its own legacy.
Attacking Syracuse’s suffocating zone defense in the first half with 3-pointers, crisp passing and a fearless attitude, the Wolverines advanced to the NCAA men’s basketball championship game with a 61-56 victory over the Orange in the Final Four on Saturday night.
Michigan (31-7) will be going for its first national title since 1989 when it faces Louisville on Monday at the Georgia Dome. Syracuse (30-10) failed to complete an all-Big East final in the fabled league’s last season before breaking up.
Even though the Wolverines got sloppy in the second half they hung on at the end, winning despite a tough night for Associated Press player of the year Trey Burke. He scored only seven points.
Trailing 58-56, the Orange had a chance to force overtime. But Brandon Triche was called for a foul when Jordan Morgan stepped in to take the charge with 19.2 seconds left.
“Jordan is our best charge-taker,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “He stood in there and took a good one.”
After Jon Horford made only one of two free throws, Syracuse called timeout and set up a play. Curiously, the Orange didn’t attempt a tying 3-pointer. Instead, Trevor Cooney drove the lane looking to put up an easier shot. But the ball was swatted away, Michigan saved it from going out of bounds and Morgan wound up taking a long pass the other way.
He threw down a thunderous slam with just over a second remaining to cap the triumph.
Triche blamed himself for driving the ball recklessly into the lane when Syracuse had a chance to tie it.
“I was just trying to make a play for the team,” he said. “I probably should have made a better decision, probably should have pulled up for the jump shot. … I did see him, but I figured, I was already in the air jumping.”
With Burke struggling (he made only one shot from the field all night), Michigan got an unexpected contribution off the bench from freshmen Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht.
LeVert scored eight points and Albrecht chipped in with six – all of them crucial after the Wolverines went cold in the second half and struggled to put away the Orange. Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Wolverines with 13 points.
“We had a lot of guys in there,” Beilein said. “You never know who the outlier is, you never know who’s going to come in and get that done. We’ve been a team all year. It was great.”
Of course, there’s nothing unusual about Michigan getting big performances from first-year players. This team starts three freshmen – Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas – which, of course, rekindles memories of the great Fab Five teams of the early 1990s.