IOWA CITY — The Michigan men’s basketball team provided further nightmare fodder Sunday for one former secretary of state, proving repeatedly that leads in Iowa are never secure, even for hometown favorites.
Twice, the Wolverines allowed themselves to fall behind substantially and seemingly for good in front of 15,400 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But twice, Michigan brushed its past Hawkeye State woes aside and refused to let the game slip out of reach until the final minutes of its 82-71 loss at No. 16 Iowa.
The Wolverines (3-2 Big Ten, 13-5 overall) weathered the Hawkeyes’ 9-0 run to open the game and again recovered from a deficit that ballooned to 12 midway through the first half, even taking a two-point lead with 15:24 remaining in the game.
“We were really happy with this (performance),” said Michigan coach John Beilein, citing the daunting road environment, which was impressive especially given the sub-zero temperatures outside. “They did show a lot more than they did in a couple other games.”
The third blow, however, proved too hard to recover from, as a 3-pointer from Peter Jok with 8:55 remaining put the Hawkeyes (5-0, 14-3) up by 11. The Wolverines threatened once again, trimming Iowa’s lead to as little as five, but ultimately left their comeback trifecta incomplete.
Michigan struggled to contain Jok and Jarrod Uthoff throughout, in no small part due to its shooting ability and knack for consistently finishing in transition. Uthoff finished with 23 points, and Jok added 16.
“Transition defense is really hard when you have five shooters (on offense),” Beilein said. “There were a couple of times there when we had bad matchups. (Junior forward) Mark Donnal all of a sudden is over on Jok. That’s bad anyway, let alone if you’re running down the court trying to identify him.”
The Wolverines’ transitional woes proved a consistent thorn in their side, but the root of the problem — their inability to handle Iowa’s defensive pressure — seemed to bother Beilein more. Michigan turned the ball over 13 times, including three consecutive possessions once Iowa began applying a 2-3 zone press.
The Hawkeyes’ pressure was hardly a surprise, and the Wolverines even used their press break to their advantage in Tuesday’s win over No. 3 Maryland, taking the opportunity to find redshirt sophomore guard Duncan Robinson alone on the perimeter. Robinson even expressed excitement prior to the Iowa game that Michigan could replicate the performance — provided, of course, the Wolverines could get the ball up the court.
“Thirteen turnovers for us is catastrophic,” Beilein said. “Some were forced, some were unforced. We had some walks that were tough to look at.”
Robinson wound up shooting 2-for-8 from 3-point range, and junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. went 3-for-11. Sophomore guard Aubrey Dawkins, who fell behind Robinson on the depth chart early in the season, provided the spark the Wolverines needed from the perimeter, shooting 3-for-5 from beyond the arc.
Dawkins finished with 12 points, behind Walton, who scored 16, and Robinson and junior forward Zak Irvin, who added 11 each.
All in all, the Wolverines did well to pick off one game in their 10-day devil’s row — a visit to then-No. 20 Purdue, a matchup with No. 3 Maryland and, finally, the visit to No. 16 Iowa. Playing without senior guard Caris LeVert, the centerpiece of their offense, the Wolverines nonetheless kept things close in both of the losses and manufactured more than enough offense to finish the upset over the Terrapins.
But in January, when it came to Big Ten standings and NCAA Tournament resumes and the harsh reality of back-to-back road losses setting in, Walton provided no excuse.
“We didn’t really want to do moral victories,” Walton said. “It’s not what we do.”