March is just days away.
And Iowa got another reminder on Thursday night of how short of a month it can be if the Hawkeyes don’t defend.
The 79-57 loss at No. 3 Michigan snapped a four-game winning streak for the ninth-ranked Hawkeyes (17-7 overall, 11-6 Big Ten), a streak built on improved defense that disappeared in the second half against the Wolverines.
Michigan (17-1, 12-1) outscored Iowa 47-28 in the second half, shooting 54.3 percent from the field.
Iowa led 37-36 at the 17:30 mark after a 3-point play by center Luka Garza, then Michigan went on a 14-2 run to take control of the game. The Hawkeyes would never get closer than seven points the rest of the game.
“I think our defense was really good in the first half,” Garza said. “I think it was good the first four minutes of the second half. And then we kind of fell apart.”
The Hawkeyes had nine second-half field goals, with only two 3-pointers. Those misses became an issue on the other end of the court.
“We had some really good offensive possessions, the ball didn’t go in,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “Now, you’re always in transition in that situation, so it’s not that easy, as opposed to if the ball goes in.
“Our defense has to be really, really be — and it was for most of the game really, really good — it has to be at its best when a couple of offensive possessions don’t go that way.”
“I honestly thought we had pretty decent looks,” guard Jordan Bohannon said.
“For the most part, I thought we were executing well. We were running our sets, getting the ball to Luka in the second half, pushing the ball in transition. I thought we were getting pretty decent shots — they just didn’t fall tonight.
“I think they got some easy run-outs, some transition looks, that got their offense going.”
“We just let that affect our defense. And we couldn’t keep up with them,” Garza said.
It was the worst margin of defeat for the Hawkeyes this season, and it was their lowest point total of the season. Iowa has been a team that has shared the ball well all season, but the Hawkeyes had just four assists on 21 field goals.
McCaffery was asked if there was dysfunction in his offense, and his brief reply was, “It wasn’t dysfunction.”
Garza had 16 points, but was just 6-of-19 from the field, finding little room to work inside against Michigan center Hunter Dickinson and others.
“I know I’ve got to be better for my team,” Garza said. “I felt like I got the shots I wanted. Definitely at the beginning there was some pressure on them. But I think over the course of the game I was getting the shots I wanted. I was working for position and I was able to create some good shots. They were just rolling out on me. For some reason there was a lid on the rim for me tonight.
“I think there were a couple of possessions where they played good defense and changed my shot. I think, for the most part, when you look back on it, there were some missed wide-open layups. Those are shots that I normally make.”
It was the theme of Garza’s remarks in the post-game press conference.
“I want to be good for my team in a game like this,” he said. “Tonight just wasn’t my night. Tonight was one of those nights when I couldn’t … couldn’t make a shot.”
The Hawkeyes’ second-half rotation was changed because of injuries to center Jack Nunge and guard Connor McCaffery.
Nunge went out in the first half with an injury to his right leg — he tore the ACL in his right knee last season. Fran McCaffery said Nunge would have an MRI on the knee on Friday.
“That kid’s been through hell,” Bohannon said.
Connor McCaffery went down with an ankle injury early in the second half. He played just 17 minutes in the game.
Bohannon had 13 points, while Joe Wieskamp added 11.
Franz Wagner led Michigan with 21 points, 13 of those in the second half.
The Hawkeyes play at No. 4 Ohio State on Sunday. It’s been a season when they have had opportunities, whether it was this game or against the Buckeyes, or against No. 1 Gonzaga back in December, yet they haven’t converted.
“We just haven’t been our best for the entire game,” Garza said. “We’ve had stretches where we’re really good. We’ve failed to be able to keep that up.
“In the Big Ten, you’re playing a team that can beat anybody every single night.
I think we’ve proven ourselves as one of the best teams in the country. We know that we can be better. And we will be better.”