IOWA CITY — It wasn’t necessarily a game the Michigan men’s basketball team needed to win. A Quadrant-1 game on the road is never an easy task, especially for a team on the bubble such as the Wolverines.

But with the season winding down and quality win opportunities dwindling, there is a certain point where a team needs to consistently cash in on those chances.

Thursday, Michigan (14-10 overall, 8-6 Big Ten) took advantage as it beat Iowa (17-8, 7-7), 84-79.

“I think that’s something that’s great about the Big Ten,” sophomore center Hunter Dickinson said. “It’s going to be close, competitive games towards the end that you find a way to pull out a win. (It) will really help you down the stretch when you need it.”

Lots of quick possessions dictated the pace of play early. Players getting out and running in transition were the early indicators that the game was playing in Iowa’s favor. Yet, Michigan looked comfortable outside of its element, playing fast and receiving easy looks in transition. So in spite of its lackluster first-half defense and 3-point shooting, Michigan held its own on the scoreboard, keeping pace with one of the Big Ten’s best offenses through 20 minutes.

While the Wolverines were once again right there in the game at halftime, down two, they haven’t always been able to keep up in the second half. They kept it close on the road against Illinois, Michigan State and Purdue, trailing by a small margin at the half. Yet, in each of those games, Michigan failed to finish, forced to watch another resumé-boosting win slip away.

Instead, the Wolverines controlled much of the second half. They weren’t getting as much in transition, but in the halfcourt, their offense found its spots almost without fail. The presence in the paint and renewed defensive intensity helped Michigan find itself up by 11 with just under ten minutes to go. The Wolverines were in control.

All in spite of the fact that Michigan had another poor day from beyond the arc, shooting just 4-for-20. Something that normally would have been a death sentence for the Wolverines didn’t end up costing them the game. Michigan’s offense was more than fine playing through freshman big man Moussa Diabate, who tallied a career-high 28 points, or Dickinson.

“(It’s) when you keep attacking the basket, making the tough plays inside,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said of how his team overcame its poor outside shooting. 

Michigan, however, had a chance to revert back to mediocrity down the stretch after it dominated the second half and looked to be on its way to an important win. As it held a 12-point lead with 3:25 to go in the game, fans were exiting Carver-Hawkeye Arena and media pundits were already typing up what this win meant for the Wolverines. 

Then, the tide abruptly started to change. All of Iowa’s shots that were rimming out early started to fall and Michigan became clumsy with its possessions. The 12-point lead was nearly erased and the game was within three with just over a minute to play. A gut check moment for the Wolverines, this was a chance to simply crater like they had done so much earlier in the season.

But on this night things were different.

Dickinson tried to place why:

“I think now we’re starting to get more stops and start to buy in on the defensive end more,” he said. “(That’s) helping us not allow them to get on these big runs that were costing us early in the season.”

Highlighting the defense in a game where the Wolverines gave up 79 points might be strange, but there’s something to be said about how they got timely stops. The steals Michigan got or the hands it put up in the face of the Hawkeyes’ shooters, didn’t make for the most statistically enticing defensive performance of the season, but it made a difference.

Every time the Hawkeyes tried to make a run, the Wolverines played the role of spoiler, keeping them at arms’ length. Michigan found itself  in the position that they so often saw the opposing team occupy.

And even though its lead almost completely melted down at the end, the Wolverines changed their script for one night. It’s not a win that seals a tournament bid and it’s not a win that will change Michigan’s season in one fell swoop. But, it was a meaningful, quadrant-1 win nonetheless. 

And this late in the season, that’s what the Wolverines need.