Iowa’s much-anticipated matchup against Michigan turns into a disaster
Big Ten-leading Wolverines cruise to easy win; Jack Nunge suffers leg injury
By Pat Harty
This was one of those rare and special games that couldn’t get here fast enough.
The final hours leading up to Thursday’s much-anticipated showdown between No. 3 Michigan and No. 9 Iowa seem to have taken forever, especially the final hour between 5 p.m. and the 6 p.m. tip-off at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.
I passed the time between 5 and 6 by watching back-to-back episodes of the Andy Griffith Show, and wondering if this game would live up to the hype and expectations.
Sadly, it didn’t.
Iowa center Luka Garza struggled throughout the game, sophomore forward Jack Nunge suffered a right leg injury early in the first half and didn’t return, and Michigan pulled away in the second half and cruised to a 79-57 victory in the only regular-season matchup between the teams.
Iowa junior guard Connor McCaffery also rolled his right ankle in the second half and didn’t return as Iowa had its four-game winning streak come to an end and fell to 17-7 overall and 11-6 in the Big Ten.
There was little drama in the second half as Michigan built a double-digit lead and pretty much had its way.
Thursday’s contest had multiple storylines, from the matchup at center between Garza and Michigan freshman Hunter Dickinson to the conference race to Juwan Howard’s rise as the Michigan head coach and Jordan Bohannon needing only three assists to break Jeff Horner school record 612 assists.
Garza only made 6-of-19 field-goal attempts and spent the final minutes of the second half on the bench, while Bohannon was held without an assist.
“I was missing shots that I normally make all the time, you know, layups,” Garza said. “And I think some guys were also missing some shots they normally make. I think we just let that effect our defense and then we just couldn’t keep up.
“I know I’ve got to be better for my team. I felt like I got shots that I wanted. Definitely at the beginning there was some pressure on them. But I felt like throughout the course of the game I was getting shots that I wanted. I was working for position and I was able to create some good shots, but they were just rolling out on me.”
Nunge returned to the Iowa bench in the second half on crutches, and with an injury that appeared to be serious.
Nunge also suffered a season-ending knee injury in the fifth game of last season.
“We’re gong to do an MRI on Jack tomorrow, so we’ll know more then,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “With regard to Connor, it really was bad at first and he went in and did a little bit of stuff. He said he could have played, but I don’t think so.
“So our hope is to get him ready for Sunday.”
The Hawkeyes have two days to prepare for another monumental challenge with fourth-ranked Ohio State up next on Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.
The Buckeyes stormed back from an 11-point second-half deficit to defeat Iowa 89-85 on Feb. 4 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Nunge has been an inspiration for his teammates this season in how he has found the strength and resolve to carry on after his father died suddenly just before the start of the season.
So to see the 6-foot-11 Nunge go down was deflating, and his team struggled big time without him, especially on defense in the second half
The way in which Thursday’s game played out was about as bad as you could’ve imagined.
Iowa gets blown out, Garza struggles and Nunge suffers what appears to be a serious leg injury.
Iowa also reverted back to a discouraging pattern in which it missed some shots on offense in the second half, and then struggled to get stops on defense, especially in transition.
“I think what we have to do is a better job of locking in defensively when we have a few shots fall out on us,” said Fran McCaffery. “We had some really good offensive possessions and the ball didn’t go in. Now you’re always in transition in that situation, so it’s not easy as opposed to if the ball goes in you can get your defense back a little easier.
“Our defense has to really, really be, and it was for most of the game really, really good. But it has to be at its best when a couple offensive possessions don’t go our way.”
Iowa only had four assists on its 21 made field goals, which is in contrast to recent games.
There wasn’t much from a positive standpoint to take from Thursday’s 22-point drubbing.
Sophomore guard C.J Fredrick did have some positive moments in the first half and finished with nine points. Fredrick moved well compared to recent games when he was slowed by a lower leg injury.
So that’s at least something to build on.
But other than that, this was a blown opportunity for Iowa, and a failure to deliver in a key game.