By JOHN MARSHALL, AP Basketball Writer
SAN ANTONIO (AP) – Zavier Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had been difference makers for Michigan various points of the season.
The Wolverines are headed to the national title game despite getting very little contribution from the two starting guards.
Michigan beat Loyola-Chicago 69-57 in the Final Four Saturday night, earning a chance at its first national title since 1989 despite Simpson and Abdur-Rahkman combing for 7 points on 2-for-17 shooting.
“They did a great job taking us out of the game a little bit,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “We still got some good shots. We just didn’t knock them down. We still got to the basket, we just didn’t make them. And that happens sometimes. But we weren’t worried about it. We still continued to play defense and that won us the game today.”
The Wolverines (33-7) struggled in the first half of the national semifinals to trail 29-22 before snapping to life in the second and run past the underdog Ramblers to earn a spot in Monday night’s title game.
Simpson and Abdur-Rahkman never really did wake up.
Simpson has been Michigan’s starting point guard most of the season, averaging 7.5 points and 3.7 while directing the Wolverines’ offense. He was a difference maker in Michigan’s Sweet 16 win over Texas A&M, scoring 11 points, dishing out five assists and snatching six steals.
The sophomore guard seemed rattled under the glaring Final Four spotlight, missing shots badly and dribbling into traffic for turnovers. Michigan coach John Beilein sent Simpson to the bench early in the first half and he wasn’t much better when he returned, missing all three of his shots with three turnovers in the first half.
Simpson played with a bit more poise in the second half, but still couldn’t get anything to fall, finishing 0 for 6 while missing all three of his 3-point attempts with four turnovers. He did have three assists and three rebounds.
“It’s not about me. We’re competing for something way bigger than myself. We’re competing for something that can be life-lasting forever,” Simpson said. “I just wanted to bring my energy down the stretch. I just wanted to do things I could control. My teammates believed in me. I stayed positive.
Abdur-Rahkman is Michigan’s third-leading scorer at 12.8 points per game and second with 3.3 assists. The senior has upped his production during the NCAA Tournament, averaging 14.0 points with a high of 24 with seven assists against Texas A&M.
Abdur-Rahkman went 0 for 7 and missed all three of his 3-point attempts in the first half against Loyola, his only contribution on the stat sheet a single rebound. He did get a couple of shots to fall in the second half, finishing with seven points on 2-of-11 shooting — 0 for 5 from 3 — with five rebounds and two assists.
“They stayed in it, they didn’t get down on themselves,” Michigan backup point guard Jaaron Simmons said. “They kept being leaders for our team and they just kept fighting through and they did things to still help us get the victory.”
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