Michigan is back in the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year after pulling away for a 64-49 win over Florida in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
Jordan Poole scored 19 points and took charge of the game in the final seven minutes to help the Wolverines advance. Michigan (30-6) is the No. 2 seed in the West Region, the 2018 national runner-up and has reached the Sweet 16 five times in the last seven years.
The 10th-seeded Gators (20-16) shot just 29 percent in the second half, 34.5 percent for the game and were held to their lowest point total of the season.
Michigan outscored the Gators 13-5 to end the game and finished with authority as Isaiah Livers and Poole thrilled their scoring section with thunderous dunks.
The matchup was a meeting of two of the nation’s highest-ranked defenses and produced rag-tag play. Florida played its usual combination defenses and caused confusion — Ignas Brazdeikis had an entry pass intended for him sail right past him out of bounds, and the 7-foot-1 Jon Teske fumbled the ball down low repeatedly as the Gators swatted at it.
Even so, the Gators were never able to slow Poole enough or overcome their poor shooting.
Zavier Simpson had nine points, nine rebounds and nine assists, while Teske had eight points to go with 10 rebounds.
Big Ten freshman of the year Brazdeikis got off to a slow start, missing five of his first six shots, and went to the bench with his second foul with 3:50 left in the first half. But Michigan went right back to him at the start of the second half and Brazdeikis launched a 3 from the top of the key that popped up out of the basket then dropped straight through. He then ran backward down the court with both arms raised in celebration.
He didn’t score another point the rest of the game, but his bucket started an 11-0 run that put the Wolverines up 43-28.
Florida wasn’t done, though.
The Gators scored nine straight points to close the gap before Poole was fouled shooting a 3 and made all three free throws. The Michigan lead was back to double digits when Livers took a bounce pass from Brazdeikis, drove on Kevarrius Hayes, got fouled and made the free throw with 7 ½ minutes left.
Jalen Hudson had 11 points for the Gators, who kept it close in the first half by making 6 of 12 3-pointers. But they missed eight of their first nine from distance in the second half and eventually tired against the bigger Wolverines.
Florida: The Gators played one of the toughest schedules in the country and turned it up at the end of the season after finishing eighth in the Southeastern Conference. Florida upset LSU to make the NCAA Tournament for a third year in a row under coach Mike White. The Gators beat Nevada in the first round but met their match against a Michigan team that mixes a lockdown defense with an offense with multiple threats.
Michigan: John Beilein was worried about how the Wolverines would handle Florida’s defense. It turned out Michigan’s defense was the story of this game. Michigan’s only three losses since mid-February were to Michigan State. The Wolverines are 30-3 against everybody else this season.
Florida: Season over.
Michigan: The Wolverines play a West Region semifinal in Anaheim, California, Thursday against the winner of Sunday’s game between Buffalo and Texas Tech.