IOWA CITY — In a slugfest complete with an eyebrow-raising foul differential, a litany of 3-point shots and the back-and-forth action one hopes for when buying a basketball ticket, Michigan came up just short.
Despite their most valiant efforts, the Wolverines (11-6 overall, 2-4 Big Ten), dogged by foul trouble to key players in the post, fell just shy of completing one of the most improbable comebacks the team has seen this season, 90-83, at Iowa on Friday.
The Hawkeyes (13-6, 4-3) were just a little more efficient in the matchup. In the post. From beyond the 3-point arc. Distributing the ball.
Add on an astounding 23-13 foul difference, sending Iowa to the line to shoot 30 free throws, and you have a pretty great recipe for a victory. And when the Hawkeyes needed the big plays, they got them, walking away with a home victory.
Michigan coach Juwan Howard was livid at the prospect of his guys getting whistled for seemingly every movement under the basket. So much so that the first-year coach got called for a technical in the second half, his second of the year.
“Yes, yes, it is,” Howard answered when asked whether the foul differential was frustrating. “That was a big reason why I got a tech, because I was very upset. Unfortunately, I gave two points at the free throw line, so I can add to the free throws.”
Prior to any emotive outbursts from Howard, at the onset, Michigan started hot from the floor just to see Iowa respond by screaming to life on its home court.
If you’re a Michigan basketball fan, and you’re thinking of recent matchups against teams in black and yellow, you probably put money on one man putting up big numbers — Hawkeyes center Luka Garza.
And the big man did not disappoint. After dropping 44 points in round one of this prizefight, Garza followed that up by notching 33 on Friday. This time, 11 of those would come from the free-throw line.
Iowa found production from all over its roster, getting the crowd involved early and leaving scorch marks behind the 3-point line.
But Michigan would not go quietly into that goodnight.
With senior guard Zavier Simpson in foul trouble early, the Wolverines knew they were going to have to find offense from more unconventional places.
The backcourt duo would go on a hot shooting stretch to keep the Wolverines in the game. Finishing the first half with 14 and eight points, respectively, the pair closed out the first 20 minutes strong — closing out the half with a floater from David DeJulius at the buzzer.
In the second half, Michigan got in foul trouble. Bad.
The Wolverines saw their available personnel dwindle down as the Hawkeyes kept receiving foul call after foul call — most called on defenders bodying up Garza.
Not to be deterred, Michigan showed resilience on offense and drilled shot after shot to stay in the game and even took the lead with 12 minutes remaining in the second half.
Yet again, when facing the ever-growing foul deficit, Brooks stepped up in the second half, finishing the affair with a team-high 25 points and a much-needed performance following a multi-game shooting slump. In short, he was the heart of the offense.
“Eli played really well,” senior center Austin Davis said. “He did a lot of really great things for us tonight, and he really gave us a boost, and I’m really glad to see that from him.”
This time, Brooks was accompanied by freshman forward Franz Wagner, who poured in 18 points of his own and frequently acted as the emotional core of the team. In the middle of the second half, Wagner filled that role with pride when he got a lucky bounce on a 3-point shot to put the Wolverines up by six. The freshman was fiery as he shot down the sideline, taunting the Iowa faithful.
“I think that’s something that we need that we kind of lost during the course of the season,” Wagner said. “We need to show more emotion and within the team show emotion, show that we’re motivated … I think we did a good job with that, better than the last couple games.”
From there, the match was an offensive duel. To slow down the lights-out Wolverine offense, the Hawkeyes needed a few key plays of their own. And boy did they get them, capped off by a 25-11 Iowa run to end the game with Garza and guard C.J. Fredrick hitting big shots.
The Hawkeyes got the big plays when it needed them. Michigan did not. The lead seemed insurmountable in the waning moments, and Michigan left still searching for its first Big Ten road win.