INDIANAPOLIS – Moe Wagner gritted his teeth, pumped his fist and stuck out his mouthpiece to the crowd’s delight Sunday.
A few minutes later, the tough German took a couple of bows – first on the baseline in front of Michigan’s bench, then with the rest of his teammates near midcourt.
Suddenly, the often overlooked 6-foot-11 forward was the well-deserved center of attention.
Wagner scored a career high 26 points, made the basket that spurred Michigan’s furious second-half rally and capped the day with a 3-pointer to give the Wolverines the lead for good as they knocked off second-seeded Louisville 73-69 to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014.
“He’s got the mentality where he wants to make the play,” said Derrick Walton Jr., who drove in for Michigan’s final basket with 29 seconds left. “He just makes the right play at all times. He has the calls to make the big plays, so we feed off him because he’s not afraid of anything.”
Wagner’s fearlessness has played a big part in Michigan’s improbable late-season run.
In late February, Michigan was just 19-11 and trying to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Since then, it has won seven straight, six coming after a frightening plane accident on their way to the Big Ten Tournament.
So it seemed only fitting that the emotion, poise and momentum Michigan mustered over these past few weeks would help them fight their way off the ropes. Again.
Trailing 45-36 with 16:09 to play, Wagner made a layup that started a 17-6 run to give Michigan its first lead since the opening minutes of the game. When Wagner knocked down a 3-pointer with 6:39 to go to break a 55-55 tie, the Wolverines never trailed again.
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