SAN ANTONIO, Texas — This looked bad, even abusive. Right away, Michigan’s Moritz “Moe” Wagner, who came to the Wolverines from the German second division, began Monday’s NCAA title game inside the Alamodome looking like he was too much for Villanova.
Too active for his own good, it turned out.
That first-possession spin move Wagner threw at Villanova’s Omari Spellman — eye-opening. That subsequent crossover move — from a center? A Wagner three-pointer followed. A key matchup looked ugly for the Wildcats.
Just 142 seconds in, Jay Wright spun and pointed at Donte DiVincenzo. “Get O,’’ he told DiVincenzo, looking to give Spellman a breather, while getting in a player who absolutely took over the first half and eventually the game.
You saw what DiVincenzo did, providing the bounce in Villanova’s attack while dropping in a trio of three-pointers, never leaving the floor until halftime.
Here’s the rest of it though. Michigan ran itself out of gas. You could see it in human form: Wagner had scored 11 points when the Wolverines had a 21-14 lead halfway through the first half.
At the halfway point of the second half, Wagner still only had 14 points and Villanova’s lead was double digits. In the first half, Wagner had missed the rim entirely on a couple of shots. The Wolverines neglected to rotate over to Spellman, giving him a free dunk, which he tends to make. Michigan missed 13 of its last 16 first-half shots.
You want a little symbol of the whole thing? Gummy bears.
“I was a big candy guy — ate a lot of gummy bears,’’ Spellman had said the day before when asked what activity or food had been hardest to give up as he reshaped his high school body into a collegiate version and then a Final Four version.
This was a Villanova group that prides itself on lasting energy. Spellman said he didn’t want to eat poorly because “that’s not fair to my teammates.” His big work as he sat out his first year at Villanova, he said, was working on being somebody his teammates could depend on — “you can’t have those unsureities.”
This game wasn’t about Spellman. But it was very much about Wagner, and whether Villanova could contain him, and all about taking away all uncertainties. Eric Paschall had the assignment when Spellman was out and you saw the energy he brought to the assignment, while dropping a three at the other end.
You should have noticed what Villanova freshman Collin Gillespie did in little key ways, forcing a tough three-pointer that missed, later forcing a key turnover. The new guys proved to be ready to help here.
You look at the scores of all Villanova’s tournament games, all double digits. Spellman said, “You look at the final score and think it was easy — these are all grind-it-out games.”
Two months ago, Villanova didn’t look to have the kind of defense that could win a title. On this night, Michigan coach John Beilein would laugh at that. At one point his Wolverines had made 2 of 16 three-pointers and trailed, 51-33.
They got a little life, getting back within 53-40 and sending Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson to the bench with four fouls. DiVincenzo simply took the ball and drove through the heart of Michigan’s defense, twice. Michigan scored twice. Wright pointed at DiVincenzo — in other words, give it to him. Spellman offered a screen. DiVincenzo hit a three. Left wing, another one. No uncertainty there. The energy was all flowing one way. This one was over.
Would it take a while to sink in, Spellman was asked later in the locker room.
“I mean I feel pretty good right now,” Spellman said.