IOWA CITY — It’s never too late for firsts.
And after 25 games spanning three months, the Michigan men’s basketball team made recent history with Tuesday night’s victory over Iowa — twice.
The Wolverines’ 80-78 overtime win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena provided Michigan coach John Beilein with two miniature milestones, one that halted a streak of futility and the other topping a benchmark that’s been three years in the making.
Tuesday night marked the Wolverines’ second consecutive road victory, something the program had not accomplished in four years – when Beilein was on his way to leading West Virginia to an eventual Sweet 16 berth in the 2006 NCAA Tournament.
“We saved our timeouts and were able to use them at different times to make sure they got enough rest,” Beilein said of his current players during Tuesday’s postgame radio show. “To win on the road is very difficult, and they showed a lot of resiliency tonight.”
Michigan (6-7 Big Ten, 13-12 overall) topped another plateau Tuesday on its way to its third true road win in nine tries this season. The Wolverines’ 14-for-27 three-point shooting performance signified the only time Michigan has shot over 50 percent from behind the arc during the Beilein era.
That’s two-plus seasons, spanning 92 contests — a stretch during which the Wolverines have led the conference in triples attempted. Michigan is third in the Big Ten in 3-pointers attempted this season.
Wright back in the fold: Redshirt junior forward Anthony Wright was expected to practice yesterday after sitting out Tuesday with a right forehead injury. It was the first time in 11 games the Sterling, Virginia native did not appear in a contest. Wright wore a headband Tuesday, over a white gauze which covered an injury on the right side of his forehead.
Beilein said he held Wright out of full-contact drills Monday and that the forehead injury limited him Tuesday enough that the coaching staff decided to sit Wright on the bench. Beilein declined to say what led to the injury.
“The facts are that – over the last day – I believe Anthony had done nothing wrong to what the facts that were presented to me,” Beilein said Tuesday. “If the facts have changed, then I will take appropriate action. For now, the facts are the facts that we discussed.”
Wright said Tuesday that he did not believe the injury limited him on the court.
“Coach’s decision,” Wright said when asked why he did not play. “If I play 40 and we win, or if I play zero and we win, it’s the same thing.”
Making him look good: Michigan’s biggest weakness throughout this season arguably has been its interior defense. The Wolverines are next-to-last in the Big Ten in defensive field goal percentage. More important, Michigan’s undersized frontcourt is allowing opponents to hit 50 percent of their two-point shots this year.
Tuesday night reiterated just how much room the Wolverines’ interior defense still has for improvement. Iowa sophomore forward Aaron Fuller tallied 30 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, both career highs.
Fuller — who was averaging just eight points and six rebounds per contest entering Tuesday — hit 11 of 13 field goals, knocking down an array of short turnaround jumpers over whomever Michigan threw at him in the post. Fuller also wreaked havoc on the offensive glass, nabbing six boards and converting several putbacks, thanks to hard cuts to the rim and aggressive boxing out.
As frustrated as the Wolverines became with each of Fuller’s baskets, he did earn at least one admirer on Michigan’s sideline.
“He’s got a unique ability for a guy who’s not a classic four-man because he’s six-(feet)-six,” Beilein said. “He plays much bigger than that. A lot of four-guys can’t create off the dribble like he does, and use his body to spin and draw fouls. … Iowa’s going to love watching him over the next two and a half years.”
Some long-overdue help: Redshirt sophomore guard Laval Lucas-Perry’s 11-point effort Tuesday was his first double-digit scoring output since Jan. 7. Michigan had gone seven games without a third player in double figures entering Tuesday, dropping five of those contests. The Wolverines are 7-1 this season when three players reach double-digit points.