INDIANAPOLIS – Michigan has been a trendsetter in college athletics.
Mount St. Mary’s has not.
But preparing for yesterday’s Big Ten Tournament game, the Michigan men’s basketball team learned from the Pioneers who won a Northeast Conference Tournament title with a win over Sacred Heart yesterday.
“We saw the enthusiasm they were playing with,” sophomore DeShawn Sims said. “Knowing that if they could win, they would get into the tournament. And some teams have no chance to get into the (NCAA) Tournament, and they secure their bids.”
The Wolverines were in a similar position yesterday.
By capturing the enthusiasm they saw in the Mount St. Mary’s game, Michigan came out with its most aggressive defensive effort of the season and lived to play another day, beating Iowa, 55-47, at Conseco Fieldhouse.
In many ways, it was the type of game Michigan (5-13 Big Ten, 10-21 overall) had lost all season.
The scoring droughts that have repeatedly spelled disaster reappeared. But the Wolverines weathered one of their longest droughts of the season (10:06) by nearly eliminating the Hawkeyes’ offense., Michigan held Iowa (6-12 Big Ten, 13-19 overall) without a basket for 16 minutes in the second half.
Earlier this season, when the Wolverines struggled to score, they carried that frustration to the defensive end, allowing easy baskets and magnifying the impact of the dry spells.
But yesterday, that mentality changed. Sims and fellow sophomore Ekpe Udoh were so focused on each possession they didn’t even realize how long their own scoring drought had lasted.
“You got to forget about shots not falling because you can always control how you play on defense,” said Sims, who put up his first career double-double (14 points and 10 rebounds).
Defensively, Michigan corrected its biggest problem: the perimeter.
Throughout the season, teams had picked Michigan apart from beyond the arc.
Yesterday afternoon, Beilein’s strategy focused on stopping the 3-pointers while allowing some inside baskets. The result was Michigan’s best perimeter defense performance of the season.
Iowa made just two 3-pointers in 17 tries – the lowest percentage of any Michigan opponent this year.
Trying to erase a nine-point halftime deficit, Iowa missed all 10 of its second-half 3-point attempts. The Hawkeyes shot just 20 percent from the floor in the frame and 31.9 percent for the game.
But the Wolverines don’t have too much time to celebrate yesterday’s win. They will play regular-season conference champion Wisconsin today.
The Wolverines last played Wisconsin on Jan. 22 in Madison and lost by just three points. In the game, freshman Manny Harris set a then-career high with 26 points.