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 national 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.
The Wolverines got sloppy in the second half and had to hang on at the end, winning despite a tough night for Associated Press player of the year Trey Burke. He scored only seven points.
That made for some nervous moments as Michigan got a little too conservative trying to run out the clock.
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.
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.
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.
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, rekindled memories of the great Fab Five teams of the early 1990s.
These kids want nothing to do with the comparisons, saying they haven’t done nearly enough to be mentioned in the same breath with a team that changed the face of college basketball.
Well, if the Wolverines can win their next game, they’ll accomplish something that eluded the Fab Five: a national title.
Syracuse was looking to give 68-year-old Jim Boeheim another title, a decade after the Orange won it all in their last trip to the Final Four. Boeheim has no plans to retire, but his quest for a championship is on hold for another year.
NCAA Men’s Division I
Michigan 61, Syracuse 56
Carter-Williams 1-6 0-0 2, Fair 9-20 3-4 22, Triche 4-9 3-4 11, Christmas 2-3 1-3 5, Southerland 2-9 0-0 5, Grant 2-3 0-0 4, Cooney 1-3 0-0 3, Keita 2-2 0-0 4. Totals 23-55 7-11 56.
Robinson III 5-7 0-0 10, Burke 1-8 4-6 7, McGary 4-8 2-6 10, Hardaway Jr. 4-16 2-2 13, Stauskas 0-5 0-0 0, Albrecht 2-2 0-1 6, Horford 1-2 2-3 4, LeVert 3-4 0-0 8, Morgan 1-1 1-2 3. Totals 21-53 11-20 61.
Halftime—Michigan 36-25. Three-point goals—Syracuse 3-14 (Cooney 1-2, Fair 1-3, Southerland 1-5, Carter-Williams 0-2, Triche 0-2), Michigan 8-24 (Hardaway Jr. 3-10, Albrecht 2-2, LeVert 2-3, Burke 1-4, Robinson III 0-1, Stauskas 0-4). Rebounds—Syracuse 33 (Grant 7), Michigan 37 (McGary 12). Assists—Syracuse 13 (Triche 8), Michigan 17 (McGary 6). Total fouls—Syracuse 19, Michigan 11. Fouled out—Carter-Williams, Triche.