JOHN BEILEIN: So just incredible run right here through the — I think we lost in early February to Northwestern. Had a really bad second half against them. They took us out of a lot of things we were trying to do. And I don’t think we’ve lost since then.
I’ve never seen a team work so hard and be so connected on both ends of the floor, even when things do not go right on the offensive end. They were exceptional on defense. We had that string of plays where Moe was wide open, Charles is wide open, Duncan was wide open, and they didn’t go down and sulk at the other end. They ended up just playing better defense so that we could win the game. So really proud of these guys.
Q. Charles, congratulations on a fine game. If somebody would have before the game told you that you guys would shoot 18% from three and still win this game, what would you have thought?
CHARLES MATTHEWS: We’ve got to find a way to make it happen. I thought that’s what my teammates did today. We understood we can’t control if shots go in or not, but we got to control our energy and effort, and we did that on the defensive end.
Q. Moe, your thoughts with the trophy to your left right now, what are your emotions right now?
MORITZ WAGNER: It’s kind of crazy for me, or for all of us, I think, because like Coach said, we worked so hard. As a journey, we worked so hard for three years. Muhammad is a senior, you know. And you look at the next step in the journey, and sometimes you forget to look at the ultimate goal.
Now you’re so close, and you’re actually going to the Final Four. So, yeah, I’m incredibly grateful to be part of such an amazing group.
Q. What was the mood like in the locker room? You guys didn’t look completely comfortable in the first half, yet you battled and went in with a one-point lead. What was the feeling like in the locker room at the half?
MUHAMMAD-ALI ABDUR-RAHKMAN: They propose challenges for us. They’re a versatile team, and they’re a great defensive team. So we were just all working together, trying to make adjustments, and that’s what we did at halftime. We never bickered or anything like that. We all fight for each other, and we just played to the end.
Q. What do you know about Sister Jean, and how do you feel about her?
JOHN BEILEIN: If you don’t know who she is, say you don’t know who she is.
CHARLES MATTHEWS: I don’t really know who she is. I don’t know who Sister Jean is, no disrespect.
Q. Do either of you guys?
MORITZ WAGNER: I know that she didn’t have Loyola Chicago in the Elite Eight. I know that. She was on my Instagram a lot in the last days.
MUHAMMAD-ALI ABDUR-RAHKMAN: I mean, that’s about it. I just know you see her all over social media. But I don’t know too much.
Q. A bit of a follow-up on that. Obviously you’re going to be playing the Cinderella team, maybe one of the best Cinderella teams in many years here. What’s it going to be like facing a team — frankly, I’m thinking if you’re not a Michigan fan, most of the country will be — nothing personal — rooting against you guys.
MORITZ WAGNER: I mean, to be honest with you, I don’t think any of us cares about rankings, seedings or none of that. It’s about who is going to play better. I think it’s Saturday, right? So that’s all that matters to us. We’ve got to prepare like we always do. They must be a really good team, that’s why they’re the Final Four, and that’s all that matters.
Q. Talking about that three up in the corner, you’re up 10 with 2:14 left, and it seemed like the game was kind of in the bag and you guys were celebrating. What was going through your mind as Florida State got back in the game and got within one possession there?
MUHAMMAD-ALI ABDUR-RAHKMAN: We knew they were going to make a run. We each had to weather the storm and get stops when we needed it. And I think that’s what we did. We got the stops, and we made free throws down the stretch. We missed some, but we made enough just to win.
Q. I know you’re a little reluctant to talk about it before this game because you didn’t want to jinx anything, but now that you’re going to the Final Four, is your mom definitely coming? Are you looking forward to the symmetry of making it three for three with her in attendance?
MORITZ WAGNER: Yeah, that would be pretty cool, right? No, I think, yeah, they’re coming. I think my parents are going to be there.
Q. What will that be like for you?
MORITZ WAGNER: It’s obviously an incredible experience. That’s something you don’t experience too much to go to a Final Four. That’s everyone’s dream. To share that with your family is obviously something great.
Q. There’s a lot of maize and blue signs in the stands tonight. Was Crisler even that loud during the season? They sure seemed to give you a boost throughout the game. Did you notice that?
CHARLES MATTHEWS: Crisler gets really loud as well. We have a great fan base. The support they show us, it boosts us up, and we’re so thankful for the whole Michigan families.
Q. Charles, your team’s run through this tournament, and you’ve won 13 in a row, did you think you’d be here? Did you know you’d be here? Or are you kind of pleasantly surprised that your team made it here?
CHARLES MATTHEWS: I feel like we all believe in one another, but that is the special thing about this group of guys. We don’t get caught up in the win streak that we’re on. Like most of the guys, we didn’t even know we were on a 13-game win streak. We just take everything one day at a time and we stay connected through it all. When you have guys like that who are truly your brothers, anything’s possible.
Q. We were talking yesterday about the adjustment and kind of coming to a new program midway through your career and having to take a year, and even this season some things, the ups and downs. What’s it mean to have these past couple weekends, and maybe this whole month, and have it come together the way you had dreamed of?
CHARLES MATTHEWS: It was special. Last year all I used to hear in practice was turnover Matthews, turnover Matthews. And go see 212, that’s when I have to run up to the top of the bleachers. But I stayed with it. Coach stayed on me. He continued to believe in me, and that continued to help my confidence grow. My teammates believe in me, and I believe in them. So it’s just been a special feeling.
Q. Moe, playing off what was asked earlier, Coach Beilein was asked yesterday about when he came to visit you in Germany and ask you to come play at Michigan. I’m just curious what your thought process before he came to visit, and how you were convinced to come play for the Wolverines?
MORITZ WAGNER: I mean, first of all, it’s pretty crazy that Coach Beilein was in my living room all of a sudden, because I only knew him from the Final Four. That’s kind of ironic. Now we’re here together. I kind of felt home in Ann Arbor on my visit. They presented a great opportunity for me.
Even though he made it seem really hard, it was an easy decision at the end of the day, and I’m very glad I made it.
Q. John, you changed your shirt, is that because you didn’t have a poncho this time when you went into the locker room?
JOHN BEILEIN: No, I didn’t. I went in there unarmed this time. I thought I was going to get water, instead I got a cooler over my head.
So it’s great. It’s great to see our kids celebrate like that. They work really hard for us, and we’re very demanding of them. So I think they get a sense of they like to get back at the coaching staff. They got a lot of us, but I did get a cooler right over my head.
Q. Every time your team has come over to celebrate during the game, you were kind of telling them to calm down. I’m curious, same thing I asked them, when Duncan hit that three to go up ten, what were your thoughts as things got kind of a little crazy there down the stretch?
JOHN BEILEIN: If anybody followed us all year, up ten doesn’t mean a lot to us because we’re just not a great foul-shooting team. We’ve got some guys that can make it. Even Muhammad missed two out of three there. So the game is a long way from being over.
Earlier in the game, that’s when I was upset that they were celebrating. Leonard called the timeout, and it’s a long day from being over with all the games that I’ve coached. You don’t get into it too often up 10 with 2 to go and lose, but it happens. And this is not the day to do it. If we don’t make the foul shots, they’re going to drive you to the basket, they’re going to score, or we fouled them, six points on threes that we can’t do either.
Q. You mentioned in your opening remarks that a lot had changed against that game against Northwestern. Is there anything that you could point to that has turned over for your team in this last month and a half or whatever?
JOHN BEILEIN: There is a point in defense that they understand how it all works collectively together. So that’s been a big deal. People were playing us certain ways, and it also happened in our Nebraska game. And there are some things that we haven’t changed one bit, and we continue to do. But we just tried to change some angles and really study ourselves.
But every game it’s like the first five minutes where it’s a little bit of a classroom trying to figure out what are they going to do? How are they going to do it. So we’ve seen a lot of switch and screens. They had a 7’4″ guy switching today. We’ve gotten better at that as we’ve went along. Some people pressure us. Some people stay back. We keep finding ways to win.
Q. They’re known for their junkyard defense, but it seemed like you guys were the scrappier team tonight. How much of that do you feel contributed to ultimately prevailing in a game where neither team could get much going on offense?
JOHN BEILEIN: I think there is a false perception of Michigan that because we’ve got a bunch of kids that you love to — it’s easy to like. They’re great kids. They’re good students. Because of those things they think they’re not tough. They’ve been tough all year long.
The Big Ten is tough. You don’t go win 13 games in the Big Ten and win four games in four days in the Garden if you’re not tough.
So they call themselves pitbulls. So they had junkyard dogs. Pitbulls that was a little bit of the pregame speech about the pitbulls, what we’re going to do, that we’re ready, we’re strong. We get into a fight, which is not a real fight, but a fight for a loose ball, that we were going to be like that. We had that dog in you that could get things done.
Q. A week ago Jordan pulls the story of the tournament. The biggest name out there. Tonight he had two minutes. Why didn’t he play more and how has he handled his role?
JOHN BEILEIN: Well, we weren’t making shots. He’s a typical freshman. We weren’t making shots but getting great defense. Most of our freshmen, let’s say they’re just growing defensively. Charles Matthews is an elite defender. When you have so much at stake, all the media timeouts, Leonard using his timeouts early, right, that we didn’t need a break, right?
So we wouldn’t be here without him. He made a heck of a shot. At the same time, we try to do what helps us win the game, and it doesn’t matter who’s in there. What is the best way to win the game.
Q. I was asking the players a similar question, but I think all coaches have watched Hoosiers, they’ve seen these great stories which really tug at the hearts. Can you talk about, I know you want to beat them, I know you want to end that Cinderella story. But talk about how inspired you are by the achievement of Loyola making it to the Final Four? You’ve been at smaller schools before?
JOHN BEILEIN: Oh, yeah. I went to a Jesuit school, Wheeling Jesuit. I coached at both Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, where my son’s a coach now, and Canisius College. I’ve always thought Jesuit schools are special. This is certainly one with a historic past.
I think Villanova’s the only non-Jesuit Catholic school to not win a National Championship. That’s how much I know about stuff, about the Catholic schools. I’m just really impressed with their team.
I asked Luke Yaklich about them because he was in the Missouri Valley last year at Illinois State. I said they must be really good. He said, you know what, Coach, they’re a lot like us. They have a bunch of good kids. They play together, they play defense. They have a bunch of guys that can shoot. The only difference is they have a wonderful nun on the sidelines rooting them on with some prayers. But we have some prayers on our team, too. We have some people behind us.
Q. You know that most of the country, except the Michigan fans, will be rooting against you. That goes along with the territory. How do you embrace that?
JOHN BEILEIN: Well, we won’t be hearing all those people. I guarantee — we’re in L.A. right now. That’s a long way from Ann Arbor. I felt like we were in Ann Arbor. So when we’re playing against anybody in the Final Four, Loyola, Chicago, those people should be so proud of that team and come out strong. Michigan will be in San Antonio. And that’s the way it should be. Loyola’s going to sell every ticket they can get. Well, Michigan’s going to sell every ticket we can get too. I don’t know who the other side of the bracket is, but really honored to be playing in that game and playing against a team that’s had a season like Loyola Chicago.
Q. Yesterday you talked about how you found Moe and going over there and whatnot. Then he entertained a group of reporters about 30 minutes. Very engaging, very funny, thoughtful. Was he like that right away when you met him, or did it take a while for that to come out?
JOHN BEILEIN: No, the first phone conversation. When you talk on the phone with recruits, it’s not always comfortable. They’re not sometimes comfortable talking with adults or they just don’t communicate. He was an incredible communicator.
Because I have recruited, not Johannes Herber was a great player for us at West Virginia. I recruited a couple German kids that there was a bit of a language barrier. There was no language barrier. But when when I met him, you see that kid, you see that smile, he’s so easy with his conversation.
I said yesterday I wanted to give him a scholarship, but I’ve got to see you play first. So we couldn’t watch him play over there. I watched him on film. His senior year was over, we brought him over and gave him a tryout. We decided to give him a scholarship, and the rest is history.
Q. Statistically, at least, this is the best defense you’ve had since you’ve been a head coach in Division 1. Can you remember a defense, though, you’ve been coaching a lot longer than that, that you felt as confident as you feel in this defense right now?
JOHN BEILEIN: In the days at West Virginia where we came a shot — we came overtime and lost to Louisville from coming to the Final Four. We had a tremendous — but we played 1-3-1, but we had guys that would shut down other teams with this 1-3-1. As time went on, it sort of ran its course. People got new ways to attack it, and you have to have a certain kid that can play it as well.
So that defense was really good. We almost got to the Final Four with it with a bunch of kids that were a lot like this. They just didn’t have the breaks at the end that we had today. So that was a pretty good defense. Other than that, it’s been an area of growth for our team, for me, for everybody as we try to be good at both sides of the ball.
Q. I wondered if you could share the story of how you decided to put an assistant in charge of the defense, and then also what was it about Coach Yak’s preparation before you interviewed him that impressed you?
JOHN BEILEIN: Yeah. About two years ago I was very fortunate. I had two assistants depart to take head coaches jobs. Bacari Alexander was at another Jesuit school in Detroit Mercy, and Vall Jordan went on to Milwaukee, and now he’s head coach at Butler. So I needed guys. And I said, you know what, we had gotten to the NCAA Tournament, but our defense was not terrific. We made it by outshooting people, that’s when I said, you know what, I know what I know, and I know what I don’t know. I want to hire somebody that thinks differently than me and prioritizes defense.
Well, I hired Billy Donlon who had been a great defensive coach at Wright State. Unfortunately, he only lasted a year because he had an opportunity to go home, for a lot of reasons that were valid.
So with Luke, I just ended up saying I want a guy that can teach. I don’t care what you know, if you can’t teach it. So I asked him to send practices from Illinois State. I want to hear your voice. I want to know who you are as a teacher. I talked with his high school principal, his high school coach to tell me what type of teacher he was. Then it was really important to talk with anybody on that Illinois staff. Dan was tremendous at just saying the guy is incredible. But I also wanted a guy that could recruit and a guy that had great relationships with people. If you’re defense, relationship, you have to have it all.
I took my time. It took me six weeks. But finally in Vegas at a tournament I finally decided this is the guy.
Q. The players talked about the mood in the locker room at the half. They came out and played so crisp almost right out of the break. Did you make specific adjustments, or was it more of a case they saw the defense and got used to it?
JOHN BEILEIN: I didn’t think we had the confidence we needed to play with. We had eight turnovers at halftime. I think we only finished with 11 or something. I thought that was the big difference in the game. The shots were going to drop. They came out and only shot 26% in the second half. So we’ve got a really good defensive team. It was basically, all right, settle down. They’re good. All right. They’re good. You can see they’re good. There is a reason why they beat Xavier like that. We’ve got to settle down, make some shots, which we actually didn’t. But we’re going to get shots. Just don’t give them second shots. They’re going to press us all day long, and we’re going to have to attack the press and do a good job with that.
For being pressed all day long and having I think it was only 11 turnovers, that was a good number given the ones we had in the first half.
But it was more of a moment of just let’s settle down, and here’s what’s happening. Let’s go out and get it done.
Q. Just asked Charles about it, he’s someone that had to change his body, change his game and change his expectations and his role switching to Michigan. Seeing how it’s all come together this past couple weeks, what are you the most proud of him as far as his development and the pride you take in that?
JOHN BEILEIN: Here’s a kid that was so highly recruited, and Michigan didn’t recruit him at all. I had no knowledge of him until his high school coach called me after he had decided he was going to transfer. For him to come in and just buy in, I’m talking 1000%, to culture, to individual workouts, scouting reports, to all the things that sometimes guys who are recruited so highly have a hard time buying into.
So many times they’ve been told they’re the greatest, and now you say, no, these are weaknesses we’re going to work on. These are blind spots. There has been none of that. He is just trying to get better. He really was struggling in January to understand what his role would be and what he should do. Now he’s got a pretty good defined role right now. I can’t wait to work with him this week, and then over the summer and next year as well.
Q. Coach, first of all, congrats. It was a huge win. Everyone was excited in the crowd. That was a really defensive-oriented game. It was really scrappy all over the floor. What does it mean to you as a coach to see your players just getting after it like that?
JOHN BEILEIN: Well, that’s the expectation, Max, that they’re going to go. They can rest tomorrow, right? Actually we have a few days to rest now because we wouldn’t play till Saturday sometime. So rest tomorrow. But that’s pretty much — I think you’ll see a lot of college teams play with that type of intensity. It’s tough to measure who is more intense than others because it’s such an intangible. But there was no let up right now with our defense. We may have made a few mental errors but not in the areas of effort.