UM freshman Diabate scores season-high 28 points in 84-79 win in Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa — As the shot clock was winding down and the crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena was growing loud, freshman forward Moussa Diabate had the ball in his hands.
Diabate turned, faced up and drained a tough jumper along the baseline to beat the buzzer and quiet the crowd. A minute later, he took a feed from sophomore center Hunter Dickinson, finished an and-1 layup through contact, flexed and let out a roar.
It was that kind of night for Diabate, who made shot after shot and erupted for a season-high 28 points to help Michigan fend off a late charge from Iowa and keep the Wolverines in the hunt for a postseason berth with an 84-79 win on Thursday.
However, Diabate admitted at no point did he feel he was going to have the type of scoring touch that would shatter his previous career high of 15 points.
“I was just trying to stay in the moment,” he said. “At a certain point, I didn't even know how many (points) I had. I was just looking at the box score, what was the score.
"I was just being active and not giving up on the plays. I got lucky with Hunter being able to pass it to me, and he's got great vision. He was able to pass it to me when I was wide open — right on target, right on time."
But it was the kind of performance that didn’t come as a surprise to Dickinson.
“I mean, (Diabate) was obviously really skilled coming in. He was a highly touted recruit. That's why we wanted him so bad,” said Dickinson, who finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
“He was really eager to learn from me and coach (Juwan) Howard. …That has really helped him in his development, and he's gotten better each and every day. I think you can see it out there.”
It showed as Diabate finished an efficient 12-for-15 from the field and outshined Iowa star Keegan Murray, the Big Ten’s leading scorer whom he guarded on the other end. Yet, the Wolverines (14-10, 8-6 Big Ten) nearly wasted Diabate’s career night during a tense finish.
After Michigan took a 12-point lead with 3:25 to go, Iowa made a frantic final push. Patrick McCaffery keyed a 9-0 run with three layups, including a three-point play, to pull the Hawkeyes within 78-75 with 1:20 remaining.
Freshman forward Caleb Houstan snapped the spurt with two free throws to make it a five-point game. Then after Iowa got a second-chance basket from Murray, grad transfer guard DeVante’ Jones had a layup attempt blocked and go off him out of bounds, giving the Hawkeyes possession and a chance to tie it with 26 seconds left.
Murray’s ensuing 3-point attempt rimmed out and Michigan secured the rebound with 12 ticks remaining, but the Wolverines didn’t make things easy on themselves. Jones split two free throws to make it a four-point game and Iowa quickly countered with a layup to cut it to 81-79.
Iowa fouled Jones again and, once again, he split a pair of free throws to give Michigan an 82-79 edge and the Hawkeyes a glimmer of hope with four seconds remaining. On the final play, Howard wanted his team to foul but fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks slipped and Iowa's Jordan Bohannon tried to draw a call on a halfcourt heave.
No whistle was blown, the shot missed the mark and Jones added two more free throws to end to Iowa's three-game win streak.
“I think we had a little mental breakdown when we were up like 10 with two minutes left,” Dickinson said. “I think it was a mixture of us not taking care of the basketball, not executing on offense, and then just allowing easy ones on the defensive end.
“We just lost it for a split second and that hurt us. It wasn't the best thing for us at that time. Obviously, we'd like to win a little bit better and not as stressful as we did, but sometimes that's how it goes.”
Diabate received plenty of help on his big night. Brooks scored 13 and Jones added 11 points and 10 rebounds for Michigan, which didn’t make a field goal over the final 4:06 and shot 4-for-20 from 3-point range but went 18-for-23 from the free-throw line.
Freshman guard Kobe Bufkin chipped in 10 points off the bench for a reserve unit that was without sophomore forward Terrance Williams II, who was out with a left ankle sprain.
Murray finished with 23 points on 23 shots for Iowa (17-8, 7-7), which shot 22% from 3-point range (4-for-18), clanked seven free throws and missed several dunks. McCaffery added 13 points, Filip Rebraca scored 12 and Bohannon had 11 for the Hawkeyes.
"I thought our defense needed to be better," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "You're trying to lock into Dickinson. That's the guy. Diabate I think is terrific and a really good player. You can't let him go 12-for-15 (shooting). He's a pro, but you can't let him go 12-for-15."
Following a first half that featured eight lead changes, the seesaw battle raged on out of the break. After Iowa made a free throw following a Class B technical foul on Howard for picking up a live ball that was rolling out of bounds in front of the Michigan bench, Dickinson scored a layup to give the Wolverines a one-point edge with 17:40 left in the second half.
That started a back-and-forth stretch where the teams traded baskets and Iowa kept pulling even. The Hawkeyes, though, were the first to blink as Murray missed two free throws and a dunk at the rim on back-to-back possessions.
The Wolverines made Iowa pay with seven unanswered points — a 3-pointer from Brooks, a hook shot from Diabate and a nifty finish at the rim by Jones — to pull ahead 57-50 with 13:10 remaining.
As Iowa struggled to respond with answers, Michigan kept adding distance. Brooks splashed a 3-pointer and found a trailing Dickinson for a shot in paint. Then after Brooks got loose for a layup, Diabate got a hook shot to drop to make it 68-57 at the 8:54 mark.
Things started to get dicey when Michigan had a sequence of unfortunate events. Diabate missed the front end of a one-and-one. Dickinson turned the ball over on a bad pass out a double-team. Bufkin was called for a double dribble. Iowa used a 3-pointer from Bohannon to cut the deficit to 72-66 with 5:56 to go.
The Wolverines were able to navigate the rough stretch and turned to Diabate to help pull them out of it. He scored a layup while being fouled and knocked down two free throws to give Michigan a 78-66 lead, setting the stage for the stressful finish.
“Obviously you don't want too many close games. But these close games that you get to experience in the Big Ten are really helpful come tournament time,” Dickinson said. “When you get to the tournament and you're stuck in a one- or two-possession game, you've been there before. You don't tense up or get nervous.
“That's something that's great about the Big Ten. There are so many good teams, there's so much good competition. There's going to be close, competitive games towards the end that you find a way to pull out a win and it will really help you down the stretch when you need it.”