IOWA CITY — In a helter-skelter season for the Michigan men’s basketball team, there is still something to be said for the importance of momentum. The Wolverines brought the confidence earned from last Thursday’s win at Minnesota with them into Carver-Hawkeye Arena last night.
The hot three-point shooting carried them early. And with Michigan staring at a potentially gut-wrenching road loss, DeShawn Sims carried the team on his back.
The senior forward nailed a game-tying triple with six seconds left in regulation, giving the Wolverines a second chance. Sims and the Wolverines made good on the opportunity, stealing a thrilling 80-78 victory from Iowa.
Sims shot 8-of-18 from the floor and pulled down eight rebounds in the game’s final 25 minutes, including his biggest shot of the season — when few in the arena were expecting it.
“My thought there was that (the Hawkeyes) were really going to sit on our three-point guys,” Michigan coach John Beilein said of the play-call at the end of regulation. “There’s one guy that they’re not going to sit at. … It was a quicker-hitting play as well. I thought they’d be sitting on a lot of our other stuff.
“It was just a hunch, and it worked. If it doesn’t, you’re all saying, ‘Why the heck did you go to DeShawn Sims?’ ”
Sims was quiet in the first half, knocking down just two jumpers while being defended by Hawkeye center Jarryd Cole. But with the game going back and forth throughout the second half, the Detroit native became exceptionally aggressive in the post, going directly at Cole and Hawkeye forward Eric May. Sims shot a season-high 25 attempts, seven more than his next-highest mark.
“I didn’t have very good positioning (in the first half) as far as scoring angles,” Sims said. “It just became better by the last minute, minute and a half. I just wanted to take over the game.”
For Michigan (6-7 Big Ten, 13-12 overall), it was the second consecutive game at Iowa that was decided in overtime. And though last year’s loss nearly derailed the Wolverines’ season, the team saw last night as a chance for salvaging a 2009-10 campaign that seemed like it was spiraling out of control just a week ago.
“Last year, we were fighting for an NCAA berth,” sophomore forward Zack Novak (nine points) said. “On the other end, we were starting to working our way out (last year), and then they embarrassed us in overtime. So I said ‘Hey, they embarrassed us, so we’ve got to fight and return the favor.’ “
Sims and junior guard Manny Harris played solidly all night despite heavy defensive pressure from the collapsing interior defense of the Hawkeyes (9-18, 3-11). They combined for 47 points on 17-of-42 shooting. Harris finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
He tallied five points and two rebounds in overtime, despite playing the entire extra session with four fouls.
“He doesn’t foul much as it is,” Beilein said. “In fact, he’s got to learn to play more aggressively and still not foul. … You worry more about the charges with him than you worry about fouling on defense.”
The win marks the first time the Wolverines have tallied back-to-back road wins this season. Having put in solid 40-minute efforts away from home twice in the past five days, the players’ confidence is swelling with five games left on the schedule.
But despite the wire-to-wire drama, there was still room for caution amidst the optimism.
“We’re getting better,” Beilein said. “Whether it’s good enough to continue and keep winning, I don’t know.”