The Michigan Wolverines, a team that features the national player of the year and multiple stars with NBA lineage, are in the NCAA championship game thanks to a freshman who couldn't crack the starting lineup until late in the season.
Mitch McGary had 10 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots, leading Michigan past Syracuse 61-56 on Saturday night at the Georgia Dome.
The fourth-seeded Wolverines will face No. 1 seed Louisville in the national championship game on Monday night.
Michigan (31-7) built an 11-point halftime lead and fought off multiple challenges from the Orange in the second half to advance to the final for the first time since 1993.
"It is going to be a great matchup," McGary said. "Louisville, like Syracuse, plays in the Big East. They remind me of VCU, the way they can trap and turn over the ball. It should be a great matchup."
McGary put on a show for the second-largest crowd in NCAA tournament history, which included actor Will Ferrell, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.
McGary threw no-look passes, slammed home momentum-shifting dunks and hit a mid-range jumper that thwarted a second-half challenge from Syracuse. He posted his third double-double in five NCAA tournament games. The only thing he didn't do was seal the game at the foul line.
Leading 57-53 with 57 seconds to play, McGary missed a pair of free throws, opening the door for the Orange, who saw their starting backcourt of Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche both foul out. It hurt Syracuse on its final possession.
Down three with 17 seconds to play, reserve guard Trevor Cooney drove into the lane and missed a contested shot at the rim. Michigan got the rebound and finished off the win with a breakaway dunk from Jordan Morgan that sent the fourth-seeded Wolverines to the championship game. Morgan also took a charge that fouled Triche out in the final minute.
"We were trying to get to James (Southerland)," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who suffered his first defeat in four semifinal appearances. "They switched on it. Trevor had no choice. He did the best he could in that situation."
Syracuse's 2-3 zone had dominated its first four opponents in the tournament. Michigan's strategy for attacking the zone was evident early. The Wolverines launched 17 3-pointers in the first half, connecting on six. Michael Albrecht and Carl Levert each came off the bench to hit a pair of 3-pointers, and Trey Burke buried a deep three from the top of the key that helped Michigan take a 36-25 lead into the locker room.
"That zone gives everybody problems," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "I'm happy (McGary), our guards, everybody made a lot of great plays, so all these people here can stay a few extra days in Atlanta."
The Orange tried to make a push early in the second half, but the Wolverines had an answer. Hardaway nailed an early 3-pointer, and Glenn Robinson Jr. and McGary had back-to-back dunks that pushed the lead back to 11 and forced Jim Boeheim to call timeout.
But C.J. Fair wouldn't let the Orange go away quietly. He fueled a Syracuse rally and hit a left-handed jumper along the baseline that cut the deficit to 48-45 with 7:15 to play.
"Our defense was good enough," Boeheim said. "Our offense was not good enough."
Fair had a game-high 22 points, and Triche finished with 11.
Hardaway led the Wolverines with 13 points, and Robinson had 10. Trey Burke, the national player of the year, was held to seven points on 1-of-8 shooting.
Michigan never trailed after taking the lead at the nine-minute mark of the first half.
NOTES: Michigan reached the Final Four for the fifth time and first since 1993. ... Boeheim is the fourth coach to guide a team to the Final Four in four decades. ... Triche has played in more games than any other player in school history. ... The Wolverines improved to 18-0 vs. non-conference competition this season. ... Indiana coach Tom Crean, former UConn coach Jim Calhoun and former Louisville coach Denny Crum were all seated together.
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