IOWA CITY — Deep in Hawkeye country, the rolling plains aren’t known for their glitz or glamor. But in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the stars were out.
And they were shooting stars.
Lured into a fast-paced, high-scoring shootout that saw freshman wing Jett Howard go off for 34 points while Iowa’s counter-star Kris Murray and unlikely-star Payton Sandfort combined for 53, the Michigan men’s basketball team (9-7 overall, 3-2 Big Ten) fell to Iowa (11-6, 3-3), 93-84, in overtime.
For much of the game, the Wolverines’ firepower kept them ahead. But lackluster defense allowed the Hawkeyes to score at-will too. Eventually, that cost Michigan its lead — and the game.
“It was a lack of defense on our part,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said postgame. “Sandfort getting too many open looks, getting fouls down the stretch. … And unfortunately we did not do a good job defending, especially in the last four minutes of the ballgame.”
But before late struggles tilted the game toward Iowa in overtime, it was the star-power that shone through out of the gate for both sides. Jett quickly set the tone and sprayed threes from all over the floor. Whether toeing the three-point line or from the beak of the Hawkeyes’ logo at center court, he couldn’t be denied.
On the other end of the floor, Murray’s balanced offensive attack helped Iowa keep pace. He found success from deep with four threes, while also finding various other ways to get it done. Post-ups, contested drives — you name it, Murray had it early as the game flow began to open up.
“When you’re going against good players, they’re going to make some tough shots,” junior center Hunter Dickinson said. “They run a lot of good sets for Murray to get him in positions where he’s able to succeed.”
Murray was so successful that by the halftime break and Michigan up 43-40, the question wasn’t about how much star-power was packed onto the court — but rather whose stars would prevail.
In the second half, the shootout just kept slinging, and both teams kept trading blows. Oftentimes, it was the Wolverines that kept finding ways to hit the raucous crowd with silencers when it needed them most. Facing a Hawkeyes squad that kept climbing back, Michigan clung to a close lead and attempted to survive Iowa’s offensive assertion.
Those silencers didn’t just come from Jett. Freshman guard Dug McDaniel started to shine as the game wore on. Over and over again, McDaniel kept doing what — at the time — looked like spoiling the Hawkeyes’ hopes. Sandfort jumpers brought Iowa within two points multiple times in the last five minutes of the game, But McDaniel always answered.
As each of Sandfort’s shots led to deafening noise from the home faithful, they were quickly countered by a clutch three-pointer from McDaniel — and deafening silence.
But Sandfort wasn’t deterred. Instead, he decided to shine brighter. Shrugging off another McDaniel silencer and feeding off Murray’s success, he sank a 3-pointer to bring the game back within two points with a minute left on the clock.
“They ran a lot of screens for Sandfort,” Dickinson said. “He really thrives off Murray getting so much attention that sometimes guys will relax on him a little bit.”
After a scene similar to the McDaniel silencers looked like it unfolded yet again on the other end of the floor — another big Sandfort score met by another Michigan silencer putting the Wolverines up four with thirty seconds left — Michigan had a chance at getting away with giving Sandfort extra space at times when the dust settled.
Sandfort, however, had enough of being silenced. With 20 seconds left, he launched a three from the top of the arc. Drawing a foul, he converted a four-point play and forced overtime.
After all the times Michigan staved off Iowa, it couldn’t come up with one last stop.
“A 3-pointer down the stretch, a four-point play, those possessions can never happen,” Juwan said.
But they did, and in overtime, Sandfort not only avoided being silenced; he instead silenced the Wolverines’ hopes for a road win. He stayed hot, scoring five points in an 8-0 Hawkeyes run that both opened overtime and closed the door on Michigan.
And when that door closed, the Wolverines and their star-lit offensive performance was wasted away, shot down by Iowa and its resilience down the stretch.