IOWA CITY — As Michigan fell to Iowa on Thursday night, freshman wing Jett Howard almost clocked an all-time performance.
Key word: almost.
It started when Howard knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key on the Wolverines’ first possession. Then another from the corner. Then back at the top of the key, this time a couple feet behind the arc.
Howard’s 11 points just four minutes into the game were only a preview of the show that followed. He unleashed his full arsenal of moves on helpless Hawkeyes defenders for the remainder of the first half.
“It started off, you know, (Jett) made some shots,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He was very aggressive out there and allowed the game to come to him, like he always does.”
Jett’s scoring clinic continued throughout the first half as he knocked down yet another triple, this time from the logo. He pieced together a dribble combination that turned Iowa guard Josh Dix the wrong way before lofting the ball through the net. Jett finished with 21 points in the first half alone, shooting 8-for-11 from the field and 5-of-6 from deep.
Equally as impressive, most of Jett’s shots came in the flow of the offense, rather than from pure improvisation. His third triple of the contest came as he drifted from the block to the top of the key, catching a pass from sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin before knocking it home.
Just like any freshman, though, Jett made mistakes. With 8:26 left in the frame, he split through the lane before forcing up a floater that got sent back by Hawkeyes forward Kris Murray. But in the first half, those mistakes came few and far between. Jett didn’t record a first-half turnover, and he rarely missed a shot.
“We need him out there on the floor because the guy’s a gamer, he knows how to play,” Juwan said. “He’s going to be aggressive, he’s going to make the right plays, and that’s what he did tonight.”
As the second half commenced, Jett showed pieces of that special first-half performance — but it wasn’t the same. His bag still proved deep, reaching into it for half-spin fadeaways and pulling out a couple more 3-pointers. Jett still finished with a respectable second half line — 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting — but the aura of a truly special performance evaporated.
And as Michigan entered crunch time, his offensive production dried up completely, a shell of the dazzling display he put on in the first half.
Much of the onus fell on Jett himself. He only took two shots in the final 10 minutes of regulation, missing them both. After looking to score so aggressively in the first 30 minutes of play, Jett continued to defer to his teammates down the stretch in regulation.
In overtime, his aggressiveness inched back as he took four of Michigan’s eight field goal attempts, but all of them were off target. After missing the first three, Jett passed up a wide open look in the corner — a shot that he took without hesitation in the first half.
“There’s no reason that they should stop us for that amount of time down the stretch, because I feel like we’re the better team,” Jett said.
For Jett Howard, it could’ve been an all-time performance. And it was still one to be proud of — finishing the game with 34 points while shooting 12-for-22 is normally something to celebrate. But not tonight.
Tonight, the Wolverines blew a lead. They let Iowa fight its way into an overtime period, an outcome that looked improbable with two minutes left in regulation. And once it was in overtime, Michigan fell apart.
Jett dazzled, but he couldn’t push Michigan over the edge. At the end of the day, he summed up his own performance:
“Wasn’t clutch enough.”