NEW YORK CITY, NY. — There was nothing normal about it.
Not all three captains notching two fouls early in the first half.
Not senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and junior center Moritz Wagner both fouling out.
Not the suddenly dormant 3-point shooting — 3-for-19 on the day.
Not the late blown lead — up six with a minute to go.
In the end, though, the result was.
The fifth-seeded Michigan basketball team evaded an upset bid from 12th-seeded Iowa, 76-71 in overtime, overcoming foul troubles, shooting troubles and plenty more troubles in between. The win gave John Beilein a perfect 11-0 career record in his team’s first game of the Big Ten Tournament.
“I don’t even know what to say about the game,” said an exasperated Beilein after the game. “We’re not going to watch this game. I don’t know if I could.”
Eventually he found the words.
“We didn’t make foul shots, we didn’t execute, we had a 5-second violation, I have no idea how we won the game. I have a lot of respect for Iowa. They have great, young talent. We were very fortunate to get the win.”
From the outset, the Wolverines appeared off-kilter.
After scoring six of his team’s first 11 points, Abdur-Rahkman was sentenced to the bench, notching his second foul with eight minutes left in the first half.
And he wasn’t alone. Junior center Moritz Wagner and senior forward Duncan Robinson each grabbed two quick fouls and found themselves watching much of the first half from the sideline.
With all three out, guard Jordan Bohannon led Iowa to a late-half charge. Bohannon hit a step-up 3-pointer with 3:26 remaining in the half. Forward Luka Garza followed that up three possessions later with a three from the left wing.
Foul trouble certainly closed avenues for usually-productive upperclassmen. But it also opened some for role players.
Isaiah Livers, for one, took advantage of the opportunity. Livers, averaging just four points per game this season, scored seven points on 2-of-3 shooting in the first half, filling in admirably for Robinson.
In all, Michigan went to the half with an unexpected five-point deficit and the solemn prospect of heading back to Ann Arbor before the weekend.
That deficit lasted less than two minutes.
In the first 1:40 of the second half, the Wolverines went on an 8-0 run, with all four baskets coming on dunks or layups. Wagner led the charge, scoring and passing out of subsequent double teams with ease.
But while the offensive production saw a momentary uptick, the fouling did not slow.
By the 10-minute mark, the Hawkeyes were in the double bonus, including all-important fourth fouls on both Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman. Wagner fouled out with 4:37 left in the game, and Abdur-Rahkman followed suit early in overtime. The duo — the team's two leading scorers — combined for just 38 minutes on the day. In total, Michigan racked up 22 fouls, nearly seven more than its season average which is good for 18th in the nation. But Abdur-Rahkman wasn’t going to shirk the blame onto the referees.
“I wouldn’t say it’s unfair,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “From the outside, looking at the refs, you always think it’s not fair. It was called a little bit tighter. It’s postseason.”
For the rest of the half, Michigan nursed a moderate lead, struggling to put the game away for good.
As discombobulated as the game was, though, the Wolverines just kept clinging. With 9:22 left in regulation, Robinson made the team’s first three of the game — and the first bucket outside of the paint. He followed that up two possessions later with another 3-pointer, giving the Wolverines some comfort in a game that sorely lacked it.
Iowa had other ideas.
With 59 seconds left, Michigan failed to inbound the ball, called for a five-second violation immediately after allowing a 3-pointer to trim the lead to three.
And after a missed one-and-one opportunity from Abdur-Rahkman, Bohannon came down the court, crossed over to his left and elevated for a 3-pointer to tie the game and keep Iowa’s season alive for five more minutes.
In overtime, the foul-shooting troubles that have been present all season reared their ugly head. Michigan went just 7-for-14 in overtime, failing once again to put away the game that was ripe for the taking.
But with 2:06 left, the decrepit Wolverines offense finally answered the bell. Robinson hit a 3-pointer off a screen on the top of the key, grabbing a lead Michigan wouldn’t relinquish. He finished the game with 11 points, making big shots for an otherwise-passive offense.
“Every (play) was a play call for him,” Beilein said. “That’s tough when you say ‘Here’s what we’re running. All eyes on you, now go execute it and then knock it down while you’re running away.’ That takes seniors to do things like that.”
It was about as ugly as wins come, but that didn’t seem to bother freshman forward Isaiah Livers
“Where I’m from, it’s tough to beat a team three times,” Livers said. “I’ve always heard that motto. I believe it now.”
Besides, it’s March now. Beauty points don’t mean a thing.