Duncan Robinson took a pass in the corner, rose for a three-pointer that fell through the basket and whirled around to watch his teammates commence Michigan’s celebration.
The long-range shot gave the Wolverines a 10-point cushion over Florida State on Saturday night at Staples Center, seemingly more than enough with a little more than two minutes left.
They ended up needing every bit of it.
A flurry of missed free throws ignited a furious Seminoles rally that allowed P.J. Savoy to take what could have been a tying three-pointer with 58 seconds left.
It bounced off the rim, and soon Michigan finally was able to exhale after a 58-54 victory in the NCAA tournament West Regional final.
The third-seeded Wolverines will play 11th-seeded Loyola Chicago, the Cinderella of the tournament, on March 31 in a national semifinal at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Introductions to Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, the Ramblers’ 98-year-old team chaplain, apparently are in order.
Michigan guard Charles Matthews turned toward coach John Beilein with a blank stare during the postgame news conference when asked about the tournament’s unofficial mascot.
“I don’t know who Sister Jean is, no disrespect,” Matthews said.
Matthews could be forgiven after scoring a team-high 17 points as one of only two scorers in double figures for the Wolverines, who prevailed despite making only 38.8% of their shots and 18.2% of their three-pointers.
Michigan (32-7) will make its eighth trip to the Final Four and first since 2013 after setting a school record for victories. The Wolverines got there by being a bit scrappier than the Florida State team known for its so-called junkyard dog defense.
“They call themselves pit bulls,” Beilein said of his players. “… That was a little bit of the pregame speech about the pit bulls, 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.”
Michigan’s double-digit lead allowed it to withstand missing four of eight free throws over the final 1:38. But Robinson made two with 20 seconds left that extended his team’s lead to four.
After one final Florida State miss, Robinson grabbed the rebound and dribbled out the final seconds before hurling the ball into the air as his teammates leaped for joy.
Michigan took a road never traveled by another school to the Final Four, beating teams seeded Nos. 14, 6, 7 and 9. The average seeding of 9.0 is the second-highest ever among Final Four participants, trailing only the 9.8 average that Michigan faced in 1993 on the way to losing to North Carolina in the championship game.
Phil Cofer had 16 points for the Seminoles (23-12), who made only 31.4% of their shots thanks in large part to the Wolverines’ constantly flailing arms and shuffling feet.
Michigan also had the fans on its side. A loud “Let’s go Blue!” chant rang out inside the arena about 81/2 minutes before tip-off.
The fans were quieted after Michigan’s early five-point lead dissipated, the Wolverines falling behind by as many as four during a back-and-forth first half that ended with Michigan ahead 27-26.
They were roaring again early in the second half when Michigan alumni Desmond Howard and Rudy Tomjanovich were shown in the crowd on the video board.
Michigan players then climbed a ladder under a basket, one by one, to snip strands of net. Forward Moritz Wagner, who had 12 points and six rebounds, made the last cut before twirling the net over his head.
Wagner entered the postgame session holding the regional championship trophy with the net draped over it. Beilein wore a polo shirt after getting a cooler of sports drink dumped on his head.
He didn’t mind the costume change amid the din.
“We’re in L.A. right now,” Beilein said. “That’s a long way from Ann Arbor. I felt like we were in Ann Arbor.”
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch