Perhaps if Michigan had faced Iowa in all 23 of its games to date, it would be the only undefeated team in the country.
The Wolverines downed the 25th-ranked Hawkeyes, 95-85, in a performance uncannily similar to when it beat Iowa in Iowa City, 70-69.
“They”ve got our number this year,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said.
The win snaps a four-game losing streak for the Wolverines.
Michigan (4-8 Big Ten, 10-13 overall) again jumped out to a staggering first-half lead this time 22 points and staved off Iowa”s second-half bull charge.
The Wolverines exploded out of the gate, appearing as confident and collected as they has all season. A backdoor alley-oop from Leon Jones to Bernard Robinson punctuated an exclamatory period.
The Wolverines led 50-32 at halftime, but Dean Oliver made a layup and converted a foul shot to cut the lead to four with over 12 minutes remaining.
But the Hawkeyes could never get closer than that, as Michigan made enough defensive stops and converted enough free throws to hold the lead.
“We knew for sure that they were going to make a big run,” Ellerbe said. “The key is how you handle that run. We fought it off and we won the game. I think we showed a lot of character tonight.
“It”s a real good win for us. I”m pleased that we finished the game mentally. Defensively, we carried out the mission.”
The Hawkeyes dropped their third straight contest. Just like last time, Alford challenged his team”s effort after the game.
“I didn”t get too many answers, at least not answers I was willing to accept,” Alford said.
In the balanced effort, the Wolverines” top six players finished in double figures. The team shot 54 percent from the floor.
Much of the offense came from unlikely sources, with sophomore Gavin Groninger and freshman Avery Queen leading the team in scoring. Groninger delivered two important threes in the first 10 minutes and finished with 19 points, one short of his career high. Queen had 18 points and four assists.
“The difference tonight is a guy like Queen stepping up,” Alford said. “He”s been missing his shots all year.”
LaVell Blanchard scored 17 points and 12 important rebounds. He was integral in stifling Iowa”s board hoarder, Reggie Evans, especially in the first half.
Michigan owned a considerable foul-line advantage, making 34-of-47 free throws to Iowa”s 21-of-30.
The Wolverines were torched by the Hawkeyes” guards, Dean Oliver and Brody Boyd, for 26 and 23 points, respectively.
“(Oliver) wears it on his sleeve after every game,” Ellerbe said.
With an impressive win under its belt, Michigan will host three more Big Ten opponents in a row before ending the season in East Lansing. The team hopes it can turn the homestand into a heroic last stand.
“We need to get all of these,” Groninger said. “We need to defend our home court and get some momentum going into the Big Ten Tournament.”