Charles Matthews steps up for the Wolverines in regional final

Michigan's Charles Matthews, center, celebrates at the end of the game to defeat Florida State in the regional final of the NCAA tournament at the Staples Center Saturday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The shot will be forgotten amid the shower of maize and blue confetti at Staples Center, the new Final Four T-shirts and hats Michigan players tugged on, the wide grins as they posed with the hefty trophy after beating Florida State in the West Regional final.

But Charles Matthews made certain the third-seeded Wolverines had reason to celebrate Saturday.

“You’ve got to find a way to make it happen,” he said.

That’s exactly what Matthews did.


Less than four minutes remained. The game Michigan once led by 10 points had turned into a tense, back-and-forth contest.

The Wolverines couldn’t seem to put the game out of reach in the face of ninth-seeded Florida State’s relentless, pressing defense. Michigan managed only one field goal in nearly six crucial minutes. Its lead shriveled to three points.

Then with 3 minutes 51 seconds left, Matthews drove toward the basket, spun and hit a fadeaway jump shot that looked like a move by an NBA veteran.

The redshirt sophomore, who finished with a game-high 17 points in addition to eight rebounds, finally gave Michigan room to breathe.

In the process, Matthews continued a remarkable run through the NCAA tournament. He has averaged 16.3 points and seven rebounds over four games, and flashed the game-changing ability that made him one of the country’s top recruits out of high school in Chicago.

But two years ago, the lanky wing arrived at Michigan looking for a fresh start.

Matthews once assumed he’d make a one-year pit stop at Kentucky on the way to the NBA. That didn’t work out. He averaged 1.9 points per game during his freshman season for the Wildcats and transferred to Michigan.

He spent last season on the scout team, sitting out the season because of NCAA rules.

After scoring 20 points or more six times during nonconference play this season, Matthews struggled in January and February. He went scoreless against Penn State and managed four points versus Nebraska.

“I stayed with it,” Matthews said. “Coach [John Beilein] stayed on me. He continued to believe in me.”

A different player emerged in the tournament.

Against Florida State, Matthews didn’t seem to stand still in 39 minutes on the court. After that key jump shot? He hustled to grab a rebound on defense. That’s typical. He pogo-sticked for rebounds, led Michigan’s fast breaks, played aggressive defense, even jumped to chest-bump teammates on the bench.

Even after Matthews missed a key three-point shot midway through the second half that left Beilein burying his head in his hands in frustration, Matthews kept shooting.

Perhaps only one thing didn’t go right.

During the postgame news conference, one reporter asked Matthews about Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, the 98-year-old team chaplain for 11th-seeded Loyola Chicago, Michigan’s Final Four opponent, who has become a national sensation.

Matthews looked baffled.

The team’s second-leading scorer stammered. Looked to two cackling teammates for help. Finally, Matthews smiled and admitted defeat. That didn’t stop the celebration.

Twitter: @nathanfenno