In a matchup of two of the highest scoring teams in the Big Ten, a shootout appeared inevitable when the third-ranked Michigan men’s basketball team took on No. 9 Iowa and National Player of the Year frontrunner Luka Garza, who averages 24.7 points per contest.
Yet on Thursday night, Garza scored just 16 on 6-for-19 shooting.
Buoyed by a strong defensive effort, Michigan downed the Hawkeyes in a 79-57 victory. Given the unenviable task of guarding Garza, freshman center Hunter Dickinson rose to the occasion and looked unafraid from the opening tip, registering a block on his first defensive possession before scoring inside on the next trip down. By the time the final buzzer sounded, Dickinson tacked on 14 points and eight rebounds to compliment his defensive clinic, stealing the spotlight from Garza.
“I think there’s still room (for me) to grow, but he’s a great player,” Dickinson said. “Obviously he’s gonna get some shots to go in. Just gotta try to not let him get too many, that’s the goal.”
Dickinson particularly impressed against Garza with his footwork on both ends. Ready to stop his every move, Dickinson was the immovable object to Garza’s unstoppable force.
“(Michigan) coach (Juwan) Howard definitely made that an emphasis in practice,” Dickinson said. “Every time I tried to, in practice with Jaaron (Simmons), when he would get me on his back, coach Howard stopped everything and would emphasize that it would be a bucket today if that happened. I tried to make it a point to not let that happen today, and I think I did a decent job.”
The Wolverines’ effort on the defensive end was a major point of emphasis in the lead-up to Thursday’s game. After surrendering 87 points to Ohio State on Sunday, Howard knew that he would need a better defensive performance against an Iowa team coming into the night averaging 86.4 points per game.
“I just felt defensively that we got more into scoring than we did into getting stops,” Howard said. “I showed film, they all owned it, it was great to see they had their mind made up, the players had their mind made up that we had to give a better defensive performance tonight vs. Iowa, who’s an excellent offensive team.”
Added senior forward Isaiah Livers: “We knew Iowa coming in Thursday, today, was gonna come into our house, highest scoring Big Ten team, and we knew it was the perfect challenge. It felt like it was set up this way on purpose for us to prove ourselves and we took the challenge. Everybody who checked in, even the guys on the bench took the challenge”
Sophomore wing Franz Wagner also proved to be a difference maker on offense, scoring a season-high 21 points on a series of Eurosteps and reverse layups. He scored nine points in the first four minutes of the second half alone, draining a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give Michigan a six-point edge with 16 minutes left in the half, its biggest lead of the night to that point.
The Wolverines’ drive to fight for every possession is one that knows no limits. Even while holding a 22-point edge, Howard expressed frustration that one of his players did not dive for a loose ball.
“That was an unacceptable effort,” Howard said. “We gotta bring it every time all the time.”
While Michigan’s defense looked sharp, its offense looked out of sync in the first 20 minutes. Following a 92-point effort against Ohio State on Sunday, the Wolverines mustered just 32 points on 40% shooting in the first half. While it was able to pull down nine offensive rebounds, Michigan struggled to convert on its chances, scoring just seven second chance points and missing a series of close looks inside. Iowa, though, didn’t inspire much fireworks either, shooting 41% and committing three turnovers.
The second half, though, proved to be a different story. Michigan scored 21 points in the first eight minutes of the half, including knocking down three of its first five 3-point attempts. Following a fastbreak jam from Livers, the Wolverines had a clear vice grip on the game’s momentum for the first time all night.
“The second half, Franz, Isaiah, Chaundee (Brown), they made some really good plays and then Brandon (Johns Jr.) made a really good play for us offensively for us too,” Howard said. “So it was a total team effort.”
There are few teams who can make a National Player of the Year favorite a non-factor. Even fewer can force a team to try and change its entire offensive philosophy mid-game.
On Thursday night, Michigan did both.