The Michigan men’s basketball team actually outscored Iowa in the second half, by six. The Wolverines still lost by 11.
The Hawkeyes immediately punched Michigan in the mouth. At the under-16 timeout, they already led by 7, and from there the lead only grew.
By the half, Iowa’s lead stood at a resounding 17 points, 47-30. The Wolverines trudged back to the locker room, heads low, trying to make sense of what just happened.
“I think we had a problem with closing out to shooters, finding shooters in transition,” senior forward Brandon Johns Jr. said. “And also just bullying up when someone’s taking us to the rim.”
Michigan had no answers for the Hawkeyes’ high-powered attack the entire first half. It lost assignments when Iowa got out and ran in transition, it went under on ball screens when guarding the Big Ten’s leading scorer — Hawkeye forward Keegan Murray — and it just could not get a single stop when it needed one.
Fifth-year guard Eli Brooks scored 13 points in the first half, hitting 3-pointers that energized the crowd, but it just didn’t matter. Every time Iowa got the ball back in its hands, it found a way to score, and it typically didn’t have to look that hard.
In the first half, the Hawkeyes shot 60% from the floor, 70% from three and scored an absurd 1.516 points per possession. The Wolverines simply didn’t give themselves a chance.
When acting head coach Phil Martelli took the podium postgame, he paused for a second before speaking. He tried to reflect on what went wrong for the defense, why his team dug itself into such a great hole early.
“We never walled the ball off, and we were always playing on the side,” he started. “We wanted to use zone and when you get blitzed early sometimes you’re like: ‘I can’t afford to give up a three and now something will happen,’ but we stayed with it. It was part of the plan. It wasn’t a desperation move.”
Martelli trying to sell a room full of 20 reporters on his team’s defensive gameplan, why his switch to zone defense down double-digits wasn’t simply a knee-jerk reaction, should tell you all you need to know about what transpired. Of course, he wouldn’t have needed to justify the plan had it worked.
Yet it wasn’t as if Martelli was wrong, either. Zone defense may have slowed down Iowa if Michigan closed out to shooters or if the Hawkeyes didn’t shoot 70% from deep. But, the Wolverines, of course, didn’t close out, and Iowa did shoot the lights out from deep.
Eventually, Michigan’s defense started playing better; it allowed 12 fewer points in the second half, and much of the shots the Hawkeyes made were contested shots from fifth-year guard Jordan Bohannon and Murray. The Wolverines even flirted with a second-half comeback when they finally started to string together some stops deep in the second half.
“Obviously we put ourselves in this situation and that hole is hard to dig yourself out of when you dig it that deep,” Johns said. “So our mentality was just focused on the next play, the next four minutes. Trying to get ourselves out of that hole.”
But, the hole that the Wolverines were in proved to be insurmountable.