After Iowa trimmed Michigan’s 18-point lead to 12 at halftime, nobody on the visiting bench was comfortable.
That discomfort grew exponentially when the Hawkeyes began the second half with a quick 5-0 run to trim the once expansive lead to just seven. Iowa forward Tyler Cook was having his way down low, the defense was beginning to feed off the crowd and after a blazing 8-for-11 start from beyond the arc, the Wolverines couldn’t buy a bucket.
It was déjà vu all over again.
Just four weeks prior — on the road against Ohio State — Michigan coughed up a 20-point first half lead, scored just 18 second half points and left Columbus winless and with an identity crisis to repair.
“We couldn’t make a basket and we couldn’t make a bright play in that time,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “When things got a little tough, we really had trouble stepping up. So it’s a big area we’ve got to work at. But also at other times in the game, when there are simple plays to be made, we make them.
“I called every number I could call, and it didn’t happen.”
This time, in need of a spark, he called number ‘4’ and freshman forward Isaiah Livers answered the bell. Combined with a commandeering performance from sophomore point guard Zavier Simpson and nine key second-half points from senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, the Wolverines escaped with a 75-68 road win to push its conference record to 2-1.
But when asked after the game Tuesday about whether the loss to the Buckeyes ever came to mind during Iowa’s comeback effort, Livers hardly waited for the question to end.
Instead of shying away from the most embarrassing loss of the season, Livers and his team have embraced it.
“That’s all we talk about all season,” Livers said with clarity and vigor. “That we can’t come out here in the second half and let them come hit us. We’ve got to hit them before they hit us.”
A back-breaking loss like that can send a team in either direction. For some teams — especially young teams like this one — blowing a 20-point lead against a conference foe can send it into a downward spiral. For others, it can galvanize a response. Last season, after a 16-point loss at Illinois, Illini forward Maverick Morgan called the Wolverines a “white-collar team.” Michigan, of course, blew Illinois out in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, en route to a Big Ten Tournament Title and a Sweet 16 appearance. A clear turning point in the season, the Wolverines even posted the quote throughout the locker room and referenced the dig several times throughout the season.
That loss changed Michigan’s season. Livers believes the loss at Ohio State could have the same effect.
The Wolverines have won each of their six games since that collapse in Columbus, and the win in Iowa was their staunchest evidence that the loss has been a motivator, not a deterrent.
“I think that’s going to help us going forward in the season a lot,” Livers said. “I’m pretty sure that’s a key point in our season, is that loss. I’m not happy we lost, but I’m kinda glad because we can learn from (it).”