Iowa City, Iowa — During its toughest stretch of the season, Michigan won three straight games against opponents ranked in the top 10, including two on the road.
The victories at Wisconsin, against Iowa and at Michigan State vaulted U-M to the top of the conference standings and back among the top 10 in the national rankings.
Beginning another string of games against the top four teams in the Big Ten, the Wolverines weren’t as succesful, falling at No. 17 Iowa, 85-67, on Saturday afternoon before a noisy sellout crowd of 15,400 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes built a double-digit lead in the first nine minutes and Michigan (17-6, 9-2 Big Ten) never got closer than seven for the remainder of the game.
“We just tried to fight our way back in the game and they just kept making shots and hitting 3s, so it was tough to crawl back in the game,” said Caris LeVert, who led the Wolverines with 22 points.
Iowa (18-6, 7-4) short-circuited any Michigan comeback with dogged defense on Nik Stauskas, holding him to 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field. It was a complete turnaround from the first meeting, when he tied a career high with 26 points in a 75-67 win at Crisler Center on Jan. 22.
This time, the Hawkeyes’ Roy Devyn Marble had the hot shooting hand, with 26 points, including six 3-pointers — all coming in the decisive first half.
“That was a player-of-the-year-candidate performance today,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “He’s good and he’s a senior.”
Marble hit his first three 3-point attempts in a performance reminiscent of U-M’s loss to Indiana last Sunday, when Yogi Ferrell had seven 3-pointers en route to 27 points.
“Someone said it was like Yogi Ferrell shooting against us — we had somebody close to Yogi Ferrell,” Beilein said. “Somehow, (Marble) got open and we have to figure out what happened with that.”
LeVert had a four-point play after being fouled on a made 3-pointer and cut the deficit to 13-8. But Iowa triggered a 14-3 run with a 3-pointer from Mike Gesell (10 points, eight assists) and Marble added a scoop in the lane and a 3-pointer.
Michigan got back into it behind LeVert and freshman Zak Irvin, who had 19 points, including four 3-pointers. Irvin hit a jumper and sparked a 6-2 spurt, capped by Stauskas’ dunk for his first points of the game.
U-M got close with another 12-3 run, with eight points by Irvin, to cut the deficit to 36-29 with 3:04 left in the half. Iowa finished with the last seven points — finishing with a 3-pointer by Marble with two seconds left — for a 43-29 halftime advantage.
“It was really remarkable; the three turnovers we had coming out the second half was not good at all,” Beilein said. “We tried to do some different things — the whole goal was to get under 10 at the half and we almost got there. We had a foul to give in the first half (on Marble’s shot) and we didn’t do it. In the second half, we came out and threw the ball away.”
But for the Hawkeyes, holding Stauskas and Robinson to a combined 12 points (17 below their average) with their defense on the pick-and-roll was the key.
“It was their defense that won them the game. They had a tremendous game defensively,” Beilein said. “We couldn’t get anywhere we wanted to go and they guarded our players really well.”
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said the Hawkeyes learned from the earlier loss this season and knew they had to play different defensively.
“I thought we did a much better job on ball-screen action than when we were up there. I think you have to against them,” he said. “They do so many different things with ball screens and space.”
Michigan never got the deficit closer than 14 in the second half and trailed by 27 with seven minutes left.