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Michigan defense puts squeeze on Orange

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Michigan's Tim Hardaway, Jr. (10) bumps Syracuse's Brandon Triche (20) in the face during the second half of Saturday's semifinal game at the Georgia Dome.

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Michigan's Jon Horford (15) and Glenn Robinson, III (1) get tangled with Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams (1) during Saturday's semifinal game at the Georgia Dome.

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Michigan's Mitch McGary (4) and Syracuse's Jerami Grant (3) battle for a loose ball during Saturday's semifinal game at the Georgia Dome.

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Michigan fans cheer during the Wolverine's semifinal win over Syracuse on Saturday at the Georgia Dome.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman — Michigan's Tim Hardaway, Jr., reacts during the Wolverine's win over Syracuse on Saturday night at the Georgia Dome.

ATLANTA — On the surface, the principals in Saturday's NCAA national semifinal game between Michigan and Syracuse appeared to disagree on the keys to the outcome.

But in reality representatives from both teams pretty much came to a consensus on the biggest factors in the Wolverines' 61-56 win before 75,350 fans Saturday night at the Georgia Dome.

It came down to Michigan's ultimate ability to shut down the Syracuse offense at key moments of the game.

"At the end of the day, it wasn't offense," sophomore guard Trey Burke said after the Wolverines (31-7) earned their way into Monday night's championship game opposite Louisville. "A lot of us didn't have good shooting nights, but it was defense that allowed us to advance."

That opinion would seem to be at odds with the statistics, as Syracuse (30-10) actually outshot Michigan from the floor (41.8 percent to 39.6 percent) and at the free-throw line (63.6 percent to 55.0 percent).

Only behind the 3-point arc did the Wolverines have the upper hand (33.3 percent to 21.4 percent), but even that advantage was drastically reduced in the second half, as the Orange's extended 2-3 zone limited Michigan to just 2-of-7 shooting.

But coach Jim Boeheim confirmed Burke's assessment that the game was lost — or won, in Michigan's case — on the other end of the court.

"The defense was good enough," Boeheim said. "It was really good in the second half. Our offense was not good enough."

Outside of C.J. Fair, who finished with a game-high 22 points, and Brandon Triche, who added 11, there was little good about the Syracuse offense on the evening.

By contrast, Michigan had much more balance, with Tim Hardaway Jr. leading the way with 13 points, while Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary each chipped in 10.

The Wolverines built the lead they held most of the game by shooting over the Orange's zone late in the first half.

Spike Albrecht ended a 12-3 run over a 6:12 vaulted the Wolverines into a 24-17 with 6:31 left in the half.

The 5-foot-11, 170-pound freshman added another NBA-range trey, while Trey Burke added another triple seemingly from the media center at the Georgia World Congress center across the street, while Syracuse went cold, missing 10 of its final 15 shots from the floor and two more free throws over the remainder of the half.

Meanwhile, Michigan continued its first-half shooting barrage, which ended with the Wolverines hitting 6 of 17 from beyond the arc in the half and finishing the frame on an 11-4 run and build their lead to 36-25 by intermission.

Fair, meanwhile, tried to keep Syracuse in the game in the second half, while the Orange defense began to extend out on Michigan's shooters.

The 6-8 junior scored twice in a 1:35 span early in the final frame, and then adding seven more during a 13-5 run that pulled the Orange as close as 48-45 after Fair's jumper with 7:53 remaining.

Syracuse had two chances to pull even closer, but came up empty in its next two possessions.

It was a theme that would haunt the Orange down the stretch, as Michigan failed to put the game away, even after pushing the lead back to as much as eight points as 53-45 following a jumper by McGary with 3:54 remaining.

The Wolverines missed 6 of 13 free throws and turned the ball over three times in the final 3:15 to give Syracuse a chance, and the Orange pulled as close as 57-56 after James Southerland's 3-pointer with 41 seconds left.

After Burke hit 1 of 2 from the line 13 seconds later, Syracuse had possession and a chance to at least tie the game for the first time since was 14-14 with 10:47 left in the first half, or perhaps grab its first lead since about 30 seconds earlier.

But with Triche driving to the basket, Michigan's Jordan Morgan had other ideas by beating the senior point guard to the lane and drawing an offensive foul — his fifth — with 19 seconds left.

"I was just trying to make a play for the team," said Triche, who also dished out a game-high eight assists on the night. "I probably should have made a better decision, probably should've pulled up, you know, and pulled up for a jump shot instead of actually taking it all the way down there because I did see (Morgan)."

And the Wolverines finally did apply the knockout blow, with Jon Horford connecting on 1 of 2 free throws with 17 seconds left before Hardaway pulled down a defensive rebound and got the ball ahead to Caris Levert, who fed Morgan for a breakaway dunk with 2 seconds left that sealed the win.

"We're so proud," Michigan coach Jon Beilein said. "I am so proud. … Given the great first half they played, , then hanging on in the second half with no timeouts was an incredible show of character and unity and all the things that we preach — the poise."