All game, the No. 4 Michigan men’s basketball team had one roadblock to an otherwise easy win: Iowa big man Luka Garza.

On his way to an astounding 44 points, Garza was a force to be reckoned with in the low post, dominating in his back-to-the-basket play. The Wolverines (8-1 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) saw early that Iowa’s (6-3, 0-1) offense started and stopped with Garza, but they were helpless to stop it.

In the end, it didn’t matter, seeing as Michigan’s offense was firing on all cylinders and strode past the Hawkeyes en route to a 103-91 win on Friday night. 

Seemingly every time the ball touched his hands, Garza was unstoppable in his efforts to put the ball in the basket. By the end of the game, Iowa’s offense felt unmistakingly routine. Push the ball up the floor. Get it to Garza. Garza goes up for two points. Repeat.

“Well, he’s a guy who’s got a ton of different moves,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey. “I thought we did a really good job of getting him the ball, made a concerted effort to do so. He never stops moving. He sprints hard in transition and posts hard, so he’s a handful for any defender who’s trying to guard him.”

The Wolverines’ response seemingly prioritized keeping their big men out of foul trouble as opposed to making Garza’s path to a bucket as difficult as it could’ve been. Michigan coach Juwan Howard was operating under a near auto-bench policy for his big men after picking up a foul with senior center Jon Teske, sophomore center Colin Castleton and senior center Austin Davis all seeing the floor.

Teske, known for his defensive prowess in the lane, picked up four fouls and was unable to contain Garza’s post presence. Castleton and Davis fared much the same throughout the game.

Fouls were a recurring problem for the Wolverines, with the team picking up 19 in the game and Teske and Simpson both in foul trouble. The crowd at Crisler Center looked to be a factor in the game, letting the refs hear their discontent following every blow of the whistle — a number that kept building for Michigan’s key players.

On the other side of the court, the Wolverines’ offense was everything that it lacked in its first loss of the season against Louisville last Tuesday. Senior guard Zavier Simpson was effective in distributing the ball, totaling seven assists and the team found its offensive balance again with shots falling from behind the arc and the guards feeding the big men down low to get points in the paint.

Everyone got in the action, too, with six of Michigan’s players scoring in double digits. The Wolverines got there by taking advantage of Iowa’s lax zone defense and were able to find lots of easy looks in the paint. Leading the charge was freshman forward Franz Wagner led the charge with 18 points — nine of which came from the free throw line.

“I shot like 10 free throws, so I got to the line,” Wagner said. “It’s always good to find a rhythm. I just try to take what the defense gives me, just getting to the basket helped us today, getting some easy ones early.”

The bench players provided a spark in the game offensively, highlighted by sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr. who led the team at half with 10 points and finished with 12. After coming into the game in the middle of the first half, Johns drilled two 3-pointers and threw down a ferocious slam upon entering in the second. Johns was also a menace on the glass, totaling eight rebounds.

On a night where Michigan’s defense wasn’t up to the task, its offense carried the load.

“Well, we played with pace,” Howard said. “One thing that we did not do was just walk the ball up the floor. We knew that they were gonna come with a lot of pace, too … Just kept encouraging our guys to stay in the moment. Can’t celebrate after a bucket, get back, and make sure you talk on defense, so on the offensive end, we’re able to get out in transition.”

This mentality manifested itself with Davis’ play. With Castleton sitting after taking an elbow to the face in the first half, Davis got the crowd excited with back-to-back dunks later in the second half, then sprinted down to the other end of the floor rather than revel in his play.

The difference in the offensive performance for the Wolverines came down to Simpson’s ability to control the game from halfcourt as well as the other guards finding success controlling the basketball and finding good taking advantage of Iowa’s zone defense.

Simpson picked up three quick fouls in the half’s opening four minutes, but quick to respond, junior guard Eli Brooks drove to the lane and found a wide-open Teske for the easy slam.

When it was all said and done, Garza was left with nothing to show for his legendary numbers other than a spot in Iowa’s record books.

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