WASHINGTON (AP) — Derrick Walton Jr. had 29 points, nine assists and five rebounds to carry eighth-seeded Michigan into the Big Ten title game with an 84-77 victory over fourth-seeded Minnesota on Saturday.
Walton had a hand in 18 consecutive Michigan points down the stretch, grabbing the rebound of a Minnesota miss that helped seal it. The Wolverines (23-11) have defeated Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota since their plane skidded off the runway earlier in the week and delayed their arrival in D.C. and will face No. 24 Wisconsin or Northwestern in the final Sunday.
As soon as coach John Beilein entered the locker room, sneaking around the door in dramatic fashion, players rose from seated silence and started jumping around him spraying drinks and screaming, “Hey, hey, hey.”
Outdueling all-Big Ten first-team point guard Nate Mason, who led the Golden Gophers (24-9) with 23 points, Walton took over the game when big German forward Moe Wagner got into foul trouble and D.J. Wilson didn’t have his best. Walton was 8 of 15 from the floor and 10 of 10 from the free throw and also had two steals to go along with just one turnover.
Walton, the conference’s second-team point guard, starred after going 3 of 10 in the quarterfinals against Purdue. He had as many assists in the first seven minutes as Michigan had in the entire game Friday and went from facilitating to scoring as the game required him to do so.
Wagner finished with 17 points.
Playing without starting guard Akeem Springs, who is out for the season with a torn right Achilles tendon, Minnesota got 14 points from replacement Dupree McBrayer but only two points off the bench.
DOWN DAY FOR WILSON
A day after leading Michigan past Purdue, Wilson struggled in almost every aspect of his game. Wilson, who scored 26 against Purdue in the quarterfinals, shot 3 of 9 and finished with seven points and three turnovers.
A Minnesota spokesman confirmed Saturday what coach Richard Pitino feared about Springs being done for the season. The graduate student who was injured late in Minnesota’s quarterfinal win over Michigan State, averaged 9.5 points and 24 minutes and had been a starter since the 20th game of the season.
Michigan: Playing far better than its seed, Michigan showed it has a ton of offensive options and can compensate if one or two players doesn’t have it. That’ll come in handy in the NCAA Tournament.
Minnesota: Will have to make up for the loss of Springs moving forward, but the team knows it can count on Mason to shoulder the load.
Michigan: Looks to cap off an incredible week with a Big Ten Tournament title. Will face either No. 24 Wisconsin or Northwestern in the final Sunday afternoon.
Minnesota: NCAA Tournament.