It was a night of misses for the Iowa basketball team in Ann Arbor, MI Thursday.
The Hawkeyes missed a lot of shots: Iowa made only 21 of 59 field goals, good for 36% shooting from the field.
The Hawkeyes missed an early opportunity to take control of the game: Michigan shot just 14/35 and turned the ball over six times yet led by three at the half.
And the Hawkeyes sorely missed Jack Nunge: the big man left the game midway through the first half and returned to the bench on crutches.
Add all of it up and you get a 79-57 Iowa loss that didn’t really feel that close.
Following a poor shooting first half, the Wolverines (17-1, 12-1 B1G) shot over 54% from the field, led by Franz Wagner’s 13 points and Isaiah Livers’ 10 points, to run away from the Hawkeyes (17-7, 11-6) who made just nine of 30 shot attempts (including two of nine threes) following the intermission. Wagner finished with 21 points, four assists and two rebounds to lead all scorers while Livers added 16 points and six rebounds.
After both teams barely combined to shoot over 40% in the opening 20 minutes, Michigan lit it up in the second half, making five of nine threes and 19 of 35 field goals. Eight different Wolverines scored after the break while only five Hawkeyes registered a point, led by Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp who each scored nine points. No other Iowa player scored more than five in the final 20 minutes.
Speaking of Garza he struggled all night long, scratching out a team-high 16 points on a miserable 6/19 shooting performance—thanks in large part to Michigan’s star freshman Hunter Dickinson’s spectacular low-post defense. Wisekamp and Jordan Bohannon added 13 and 11 points respectively on the night but combined to shoot just 3/11 from beyond the arc—including 1/7 in the second half. C.J. Fredrick, who was a perfect 4/4 from the field in leading the Hawkeyes with nine points at the half, registered a confounding goose-egg in the second frame, attempting and missing only one shot.
Iowa waltzed into the Crisler Center with the nation’s best offense and crawled out of the place with nothing to show but an ugly-looking box score, though that disappointment paled in comparison to Nunge’s injury.
With 11:49 left in the first half, the junior attempted to position himself around the free-throw line when he clutched at his right leg/knee and collapsed to the floor. The television broadcast was quick to point out that Nunge appeared to be grabbing at the same leg where he suffered a torn ACL last season. All in all, it wasn’t a pretty sight and the big man returned to the Iowa bench in the second half aided by crutches.
For every player, a season-ending injury would be devastating. For Jack Nunge, it would be heartbreaking.
Jack Nunge helped off the court with a right leg injury. Iowa says he's doubtful to return. pic.twitter.com/4tya6a5IbQ— Iowa Hawkeyes | The Gazette (@GazetteOnIowa) February 26, 2021
Be sure to send some positive vibes, prayers or whatever is your flavor to Jack. Let’s hope this is just a minor scare and not another big blow to his Iowa career.
Less importantly than Nunge’s overall health, Iowa really needs his depth as the calendar turns to March. If he can’t go the rest of the way, Fran McCaffery is going to have to find someone to give Garza a breather off the bench because it's gonna be tough for the Hawkeyes to advance deep into March with their star center having to gut out 35+ minutes on the floor every night.
Connor McCaffery finished with eight rebounds but also went down with what looked like a turned ankle early in the second half. He returned to the bench but not to action, though early indications suggest the injury isn't anything major.
Fran McCaffery says Nunge will have MRI tomorrow. Says Connor wanted to return to game, but Fran didn't think he was ready to play. Hopes to have him for Sunday— MarkEmmert (@MarkEmmert) February 26, 2021
The first half had more to do with video reviews than it did a top-ten matchup. Seemingly, every time a player on either side sneezed officials stopped play to review it, most notably the games' first stoppage which resulted in a flagrant foul on Garza for a hook and hold (I guess?).
This was called a flagrant 1 on Garza pic.twitter.com/li3RplURuK— Heavens! (@HeavensFX) February 26, 2021
Still, given the flow of the game at halftime it felt like Iowa should've been leading which is always a good sign [eye-roll emoji].
Michigan scored the game’s first five points before the Hawkeyes went on an 11-2 run to take what would be their largest lead of the night at 11-7. From there, the teams went back and forth the rest of the half, trading more misses than makes as the two squads combined to shoot 26/64 (40%) from the field. Bohannon and Fredrick combined to shoot 7/8 from the field, but the Wolverines still lead 32-29 at the intermission thanks to out-rebounding Iowa 22-13—including a 10-2 advantage on the offensive boards.
The Hawkeyes actually fought back to take a 37-36 lead with 17:30 to play before Michigan outscored Iowa 43-20 the rest of the way.
From a micro-standpoint, it was a disheartening second half in a game that, though close at times, never felt winnable. From larger scope, there’s no shame in losing to this team. With the win, Michigan is now 17-1 overall and 12-1 in perhaps the deepest collection of teams the Big Ten Conference has ever seen.
Perhaps what’s most disappointing about the loss though was just how far away the Hawkeyes looked from the Wolverines. We are now forced to confront the sobering reality that this Iowa squad, which returned almost everybody from a year ago including the conference Player of the Year and was picked to win the Big Ten, never really had a shot at winning the league. This Michigan team is far and away the best team in the conference this season and that’s a tough pill to swallow.
But it’s only one loss and, for as bad as it looked aesthetically, on paper it really won’t hurt the Hawkeyes that much. With potential injuries to Nunge and McCaffery however, it might wound Iowa far beyond Thursday night. Let's hope the Hawkeyes snap-to rather quickly because there’s no rest for the weary in the Big Ten and #4 Ohio State awaits in Columbus on Sunday.