Then Wagner, the one player the Cinderella from the Missouri Valley had no answer for, took over.
The Racine native, who was a member of the 1963 NCAA champion Loyola University men's basketball team, was in San Antonio over the weekend to watch his alma mater appear in its first Final Four in 55 years.
He didn't hesitate. It was No. 1.
With their surge through the closing eight minutes, the Wolverines gained a 69-57 win, a 33-7 record, their seventh Final Four victory and second under 11-season Coach John Beilein - and a date for the closing Monday night opposite either Villanova or Kansas. They scored 22 points off 16 turnovers by Loyola. The other two were Hakeem Olajuwon and Larry Bird.
7 Championship game appearances for MI, including the Fab Five's two vacated losses.
MI has won 14 games in a row after ending Loyola's 14-game winning streak.
Loyola concludes the 2017-18 season with an overall record of 32-6.
"I think this team was trying to be aggressive, trying to make the right plays", said Donte Ingram, as he played a key role in leading the Ramblers on this run, "I think a couple times we got a bit sped up or a miscue and it happens sometimes". Krutwig answered inside over Wagner to stop the MI run, but then the Wolverines got going offensively.
"I just knew it, it had that feeling", Abdur-Rahkman said.
MI led early by as many as eight points, but the underdog Ramblers shook off their nerves and showed that the lights were not too bright. Six of his 15 rebounds were on the offensive end. Junior forward Moe Wagner proved invaluable, giving MI some life in an otherwise disappointing first half and continuing his excellent play in the second half.
The underdog Ramblers kept their foot on the gas pedal, starting the second half where they left off. In the second half, his influence was especially evident as MI forced 11 turnovers from Loyola's veteran players. "It's a lot more fun when the ball goes to the net". Let's not forget that just 11 years ago, Porter Moser was being fired at Illinois State after four dismal seasons. The ultimate edge was 19-6. "I don't think we're at that point yet ..." Adorable nuns and national admiration only get you so far; at some point basketball matters. (Michigan's) length - they're really good defensively. He's a competitor. He competes, and he's emotional, and he's passionate. "I love all these guys like brothers".
Slowly but surely, MI stayed in it. Loyola went on a three-minute scoring drought and Wagner tied things up with a triple from the corner before Jordan Poole put MI in front, 49-47, with a pair of free throws at the 6:20 mark of the second half.
Backup point guard Jaaron Simmons made a 3, and Duncan Robinson hit another a few minutes later to cut the Wolverines' deficit to 45-42 with 10 minutes left.
We're still waiting for a double-digit seed to make it to the title game.
More important, Wagner bought MI time until the rest of the Wolverines arrived in San Antonio for the game.
Even Poole came off the bench to attack the basket in the second half, finishing with seven points.
"We had an emphasis to try to take care of the ball, but they sped us up", guard Marques Townes said. Two free throws from Poole earned on a baseline drive put the Wolverines in front for good, and that was followed by a similar drive from sophomore Charles Matthews and a converted layup, and then came Wagner's tip-and-one off of Poole's miss from long distance.
The second half picked up with MI tying the game and then taking a lead with just under seven minutes to play under Wagner's leadership. The first is West Region champion and third-seeded MI against South Region champion and 11-seed Loyola-Chicago. Freshman Cameron Krutwig led Loyola with 17 points, while redshirt junior Clayton Custer had 15. Custer added 15 points and Jackson had 10.
Charles Matthews added 17 points for MI (33-7).