'We have weapons': Michigan finds its offense, beats Iowa in Big Ten opener

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan was looking for a remedy after Tuesday’s rough shooting performance in Louisville.

Iowa’s porous defense proved to be the perfect cure.

The No. 4 Wolverines used a balanced scoring attack and withstood a historic performance from Iowa big man Luka Garza to bounce back with a 103-91 win in the Big Ten opener Friday at Crisler Center.

BOX SCORE: Michigan 103, Iowa 91

Freshman wing Franz Wagner had 18 points in his home debut and senior center Jon Teske and senior guard Zavier Simpson each scored 16 for Michigan (8-1, 1-0 Big Ten), which shot 55.2 percent (32-for-58) from the field and a season-high 85.3 percent (29-for-34) from the free-throw line.

Junior forward Isaiah Livers added 14 points, junior guard Eli Brooks scored 13 and sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr. had 12 points and eight rebounds, including five on the offensive glass, off the bench as nine Wolverines scored.

Michigan guard Eli Brooks (55) makes an airborne pass in the first half.

"We shot the ball a little bit better than the other day," Wagner said, referring to the team's 43-point outing against Louisville. "We're a good offensive team. We have a lot of weapons. Brandon got a lot of offensive rebounds and I think that helped a lot with second chances.

"When you shoot more, you have a greater chance of scoring a lot more points. I think the whole pace of the game, too, Iowa is a really fast team. I think all that plays into that (60-point scoring turnaround)."

After having a tough time widening the lead to double digits due to Garza’s 27-point first-half effort, Michigan had no trouble maintaining it for much of the second half. Even when the Hawkeyes trimmed the deficit to single digits, it didn’t take long for the Wolverines to push the margin back to at least 10.

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When Connor McCaffery (12 points) converted a three-point play to cut it to nine at the 19:02 mark, Wagner hit a free throw and Teske drained a short jumper to push it to 12.

When Iowa (6-3, 0-1) made back-to-back baskets in the paint to pull within eight, Brooks knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 67-56 with 12:55 remaining.

When Garza scored six during a 10-4 spurt to pull within 78-71 with 7:38 remaining, redshirt junior center Austin Davis came through with six straight points for Michigan on a layup and back-to-back dunks to push the lead to 82-71 at the 6:52 mark.

Even when Jordan Bohannon splashed a 3-pointer to cut Michigan's advantage back down to nine, Simpson responded with a 3-pointer of his own to make it 88-76 with 3:08 remaining.

From there, Michigan led by at least 11 points the rest of the way and made 13 free throws in the final 2:40 to get back on a winning track.

"We played with pace," Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. "One thing that we did not do was just walk the ball up the floor. We knew they were going to come with a lot of pace, too. Iowa, they're pushing the ball up the floor on makes and misses just to see if our defense is going to have any mental lapses.

"I kept encouraging that we've got to stay in the moment. We can't celebrate after a bucket. Get back and make sure you talk on defense, so on the offensive end we're able to get out in transition because we played off some misses and that helped us a lot."

Garza finished with 44 points on 17-for-32 shooting to blow past his previous career high of 30 points. He drew 11 fouls and went 10-for-13 from the free-throw line.

Garza's 44 points were the third-most in a single game in Iowa program history and the most by a visiting player in Crisler Center history, besting Ohio State’s Dennis Hopson’s 39 points on Jan. 8, 1987.

Yet, Garza was able to feast because Michigan was more focused on limiting Iowa's outside shooting. The Hawkeyes entered the game averaging eight made 3-pointers per game, including a high of 11 in two of the past three contests.

They were held to three 3-pointers on 15 attempts, both season lows, while the Wolverines made 10 deep balls.

Iowa center Luka Garza (55) goes for the loose ball in front of Michigan center Jon Teske (15) in the first half.

"We knew were going to have our hands full with Garza, but I love the fact we took the challenge," Howard said. "No one got discouraged when he was making shots. It was great to see we kept our mental stability and next-play mentality."

There was no lingering hangover from the Louisville loss as Michigan had no problem getting shots to drop. The Wolverines made eight of their first 12 field-goal attempts — including 3-pointers from Brooks, Livers and Simpson — to open a 21-13 lead with 12:39 left in the first half.

The problem was containing Garza, who entered Friday’s contest as the leading scorer in the Big Ten at 20 points per game. Iowa provided a steady diet of post touches to Garza and he continually converted around the rim, needing less than five minutes to reach double figures in scoring.

Garza used his footwork and size to finish over everyone Michigan sent his way: Teske, sophomore center Colin Castleton and Davis. He got Teske in foul trouble, inadvertently gave Castleton a bloody lip that required stitches, and even tipped in his own blocked shot at one point when he was stopped at the rim.

Every time the Wolverines were on the verge of pulling away, Garza reeled them back in. He scored 12 straight for Iowa over a four-minute stretch on an array of free throws, post moves and mid-range jumpers.

But Garza’s one-man show could only hold up for so long against Michigan’s balanced attack. After Johns countered Garza’s run with eight straight points for Michigan, Livers capped a 7-0 run with a 3-pointer to give the Wolverines a 50-38 lead at the break.

"He (Garza) is a guy that has a ton of different moves," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "I felt we did a really good job collectively of getting him the ball and making a concerted effort to do so. He never stops moving. He sprints hard in transition and posts hard, so he's a handful for anyone.

"I thought we gave ourselves a chance. We got to the free-throw line. We got to the offensive glass. A lot of good things, but you can't go on the road and give up 55 percent (shooting). You're gonna get beat."


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins