The heart and soul of the Michigan men’s basketball team left the floor with two minutes remaining in the first half of the Wolverines’ 69-62 loss to Iowa Wednesday night because of a knee injury.
And although senior Brent Petway would return briefly in the second half, his first exit signaled the beginning of a mass exodus for Michigan.
Gone was the Wolverines’ ability to find the basket. Michigan shot just 29 percent from the field in the second half.
Absent was the Wolverines’ defensive intensity that held the Hawkeyes to a meager 26-percent shooting in the first half. Iowa flipped those digits around in the second frame, sinking 62 percent of its attempts.
And vanished was Michigan’s hunger for a victory that would have been its first in three games and would have kept it undefeated in Big-Ten home games.
“They just wanted it more than we did,” sophomore Ekpe Udoh said.
But those three missing items are far from independent.
Michigan coach Tommy Amaker has expressed all season long his exasperation with the lack of defensive effort that he sees from individuals who are having trouble scoring.
On Wednesday night, this headache flared up yet again.
Senior Dion Harris never found his stroke, finishing the evening 0-for-11 from the field with just one point. The output was the Detroit native’s lowest of the season, and his lowest tally since early last January.
“I was just off,” Harris said. “I didn’t think I got very good looks, so give credit to them, they kind of took that away from me.”
Harris’s fellow guards, sophomore Jerret Smith and senior Lester Abram, didn’t have much more success. Smith finished 0-for-2 from the field, and Abram managed just six points on 3-of-9 shooting.
The Wolverines’ ineptitude from the field was mirrored by a relaxation on the defensive end.
“It’s really frustrating when you can’t get a good look . and then you’ve got the other team scoring basically at will every time in the second half,” Harris said
Michigan has had this problem in the past as well. Before the season started, Amaker, Harris and senior Courtney Sims all reflected on the Wolverines’ inability to stay focused and involved on the defensive end when they were struggling offensively. Amaker has referred to it repeatedly throughout this season as well, and Michigan’s lack of discipline plagued it again Wednesday night.
“I certainly feel, and I’ve always said this, like a lot of times your defense loses its steam and its energy when you’re not scoring,” Amaker said. “And I felt that our kids, we struggled to score in the second half. We struggled to make shots, we missed lay-ups, we weren’t able to get to the foul line, and I thought that affected our defensive energy. I’ve talked about that being a pet peeve, and it caught us tonight.”
The Wolverines’ drought began with 15 minutes remaining in the second half, and they didn’t score again until just more than six minutes were left in the game. During that span, the Hawkeyes went on a 16-0 run to erase an 11-point deficit, and then some.
The first half was a different story for Michigan. It shot 50 percent from the field in the period, and with the execution on offense came a suffocating defense. Sims had 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the period, and the Wolverines held the Hawkeyes to just eight baskets. But while Michigan’s field goals were cut in half in the second frame – from 14 to seven – Iowa doubled its total in the final half. Most of the Hawkeyes’ shots were easy, with defenders nowhere in sight.
“We didn’t stop or do anything (in the second half),” Harris said. “They kept on knocking the shots down, and we couldn’t.”
Staying sharp on defense, despite an inability to score, requires leadership. And when Petway went down, the Wolverines lost their leader.
And with the departure of their heart and soul, Michigan might have seen its NCAA Tournament hopes disappear as well.