Saturday afternoon’s men’s basketball game between Michigan and Iowa State was a story of unlikely heroes.
For much of the first half, neither team could gain separation, and the Cyclones led the Wolverines, 23-21, with just a few minutes to go before the break. Then, from the high post, redshirt sophomore center Blake McLimans kicked the ball out to junior guard Eso Akunne, who knocked down the 3-pointer.
Neither McLimans nor Akunne typically see much floor time, but the pair kick-started a 10-0 run for the Michigan offense, and the Wolverines went on to win, 76-66.
“It feels magnificent,” said sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. after the game. “We just feel great to be back home in front of our home crowd. We just wanted to go out there and put on a show for our fans.”
McLimans added a two-point bucket of his own during that run, and for good measure, the big man nailed his own 3-pointer on Michigan’s last possession of the half. The Wolverines (6-2) took a 34-25 lead into the locker room.
“The bench was really responsible for that,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Eso came in and shots weren’t falling. … Then he went behind a ball screen on a hand back and knocked one down. Blake got a pick and roll, then took a charge, then hit a three to end (the half).
“That separation on that team — we’ll play a lot of 3-point shooting teams — we won’t play another that can get back in a game as fast as that team can get back in the game. So the spread was huge for us, and Eso and Blake had a lot to do with that.”
Freshman point guard Trey Burke continued to impress in his first season with the reins, as he finished the contest with 13 points and three 3-pointers.
Hardaway Jr. had a bounce-back performance from his trip to Virginia on Tuesday, where he rode the bench for most of the first half in foul trouble and finished with just five points. On Saturday, Hardaway Jr. finished with a team-high 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting.
He also picked up a steal from the top of the key during Michigan’s 10-0 run in the first half, leading to a breakaway one-handed dunk that ignited the crowd in Crisler Arena.
In the second half, Michigan continued to pull away from Iowa State (5-3). Redshirt sophomore forward Jordan Morgan came alive, scoring on midrange jumpers, free throws and tough plays underneath after tallying just four points in nine minutes of the first half. He finished the contest with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
On the defensive end, the Wolverines did solid work limiting a proficient shooting team. The Cyclones came into the game tied for No. 7 nationally with 10.3 3-point field goals per game. On Saturday, they were just 6-for-27 (22 percent) from long range.
But late in the game, Iowa State made a comeback push. Down by as much as 23 points in the second half, the Cyclones eventually narrowed their deficit to six points with under 30 seconds to play.
“We weren’t strong with the ball (late in the game),” Beilein said. “We talk about being boss with the ball. We weren’t strong. We were just watching the clock.”
But it was too little too late for Iowa State.
The only Iowa State player to give the Michigan defense much trouble was redshirt sophomore forward Royce White, who finished with a game-high 22 points and six offensive boards. But those were points the Wolverines were seemingly willing to concede, as they keyed in mostly on the dangerous Cyclone perimeter shooters.
“Very rarely did we double (White) in the post,” Beilein said. “We’ve doubled people in the post. We felt that he was going to have to beat us from two. … We weren’t giving him a lot more attention than just 1-on-1.”