The Michigan men’s basketball team defeated Iowa State, 83-76, in the quarterfinal game of the Battle for Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas behind strong performances from senior guard Zavier Simpson and junior forward Isaiah Livers.
“Obviously, a very emotional game for all of us, a high, competitive game,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard told reporters. “It wasn’t an easy matchup for us. We knew coming in that they had a lot of length, they’re a tough team – they’ve been to the NCAA tournament many times, so they have a lot of experience.”
The Cyclones were easily the toughest opposition the Wolverines have faced so far, and it showed; the game was closely-matched until the end. With seven lead changes throughout the first half, neither team led by more than six until around three minutes into the second half.
It was a fast-paced, high-scoring matchup, with Howard using a ten-man rotation and turning to players like senior forward Austin Davis and sophomore forward Brandon Johns, Jr. who have seen fewer minutes this season, instead of his usual eight- or nine-man rotation, thanks to foul trouble elsewhere.
“You just stay ready,” said sophomore center Colin Castleton. “Coach always preaches to us be ready whenever your name is called, no matter if that’s within the first minute, fifth minute, 10th minute, whenever, just stay ready.”
Iowa State often seemed to control the game throughout most of the first half, while Michigan’s defense seemed at times to be the thing that was keeping the Wolverines in the game amid foul trouble and turnover issues. But Michigan took more control of the game in the second half, expanding the four-point lead they took into the break into a 13-point margin. Though the Cyclones drew closer at various points throughout the half, including in the last minutes of the game, when they came within five points, they never regained the lead.
Freshman guard Franz Wagner, making his first college start, drained an early three on his way to a six-point performance in which he fouled out after 23 minutes. The much-heralded recruit and younger brother of former Michigan forward Moritz Wagner, Franz broke his wrist in practice before the opener, missing the first four games of the season in recovery. His wrist was wrapped in black athletic tape, but he appeared confident in his NCAA debut, at times matching up on defense against Iowa State’s most formidable player, his fellow freshman guard Tyrese Haliburton.
“I think I came in with a lot of energy,” Wagner said. “I think I can play better defense, but I just try to do my job, play within the game, play the pace of the game. I think we played good offensively as a team, but defensively, I think I can do a better job.”
The guards were the story of the game: Wagner, the heralded recruit working to prove his potential can translate in games; Haliburton cementing his standing among the best point guards in the NCAA and to prove his NBA potential; and Simpson, the experienced senior at the heart of this Michigan team. Wagner put his first points on the board for Michigan, Haliburton was the toughest matchup for Michigan all game with 25 points on the day, and Simpson continued to lead the Wolverines with 13 assists and a double-double.
“Tyrese Haliburton had a phenomenal game,” Howard said. “They got a big lift from him. Granted, he had to work for every bucket, because our guys played extremely hard defending him.”
It was undoubtedly Michigan’s most quality and hardest-fought game thus far this season. The competition will not get any easier, as the Wolverines will face either Alabama or No. 6 North Carolina on Wednesday in the tournament semifinal.