Good stories emerge as Iowa men's basketball overcomes Michigan in overtime, 93-84

Kennington Lloyd Smith III
Des Moines Register

The razor-thin margin between winning and losing in the Big Ten was on display in Thursday night's game between Iowa and Michigan. The Hawkeyes' shooting percentage was strong, but they only led for a handful of minutes in the overtime contest.

For the majority of the game Iowa just couldn't get over the hump. But down the stretch, another red-hot shooting night from Payton Sandfort marked the difference in a gritty 93-84 win. Two signature plays by the sophomore sent the Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd into a frenzy: a 4-point play that tied the game at 79 apiece with 20 seconds remaining and a near trick shot plus the foul off a Kris Murray miss in overtime that gave Iowa a 6-point advantage.

His 24 second half/overtime points led all competitors over the final 25 minutes. His 26 total points were second on the team to Kris Murray, who dominated once again on a national stage with 27 points and eight rebounds.

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"I was kind of mad at myself at halftime," Sandfort said. "I wasn't aggressive enough. I'd been shooting really well but turned down some semi-open ones early. I just wanted to come out, be aggressive and make plays. I'm just really happy we got the win."

Iowa forwards Payton Sandfort (20) and Kris Murray (24) combined for 53 points in the Hawkeyes' 93-84 overtime win over Michigan. It's Iowa's third straight win.

Several Hawkeyes contributed to the win (more on that a little later) but what pushed Iowa over the top on Thursday was a more connected defensive effort down the stretch. Michigan, who entered Thursday's game as a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team in field goal percentage (44%) and 3-point percentage (34%), far exceeded its season totals with 49% shooting from the field and 14 buckets from long range (45%), spearheaded by Jett Howard's 34 points.

The lack of defensive connectivity led to frustration by coach Fran McCaffery and his staff early in the second half. A trio of easy Michigan baskets gave the Wolverines a 51-44 lead at the 17:43 mark, which prompted a timeout and tongue-lashing from McCaffery. With a lineup change: inserting Sandfort and true freshman Josh Dix, the Hawkeyes turned it around to the tune of nine forced turnovers and 19 points off turnovers. They also allowed just one field goal (1-7) in overtime.

"I think we had to get a little more aggressive," McCaffery said. "In the first half like we were there, but they were still getting the shots off and making them. I thought (we would) put a little more pressure whether it be up on a ball screen or tagging a (pick-and-roll) or getting over on the weak side. There's not enough time in a day to go through a walkthrough of all the things that they run, and they run them well. So you have to stay after them and you got to rebound."

Iowa won the rebounding battle by a 40-37 margin led by Filip Rebraca's 12 rebounds. The senior center also added 13 points and held Michigan All-American Hunter Dickinson to only 12 points, compared to his season average of 19 points. Performances like this from Rebraca and Murray (who played all 45 minutes on Thursday) are expected, but Thursday's game produced a series of good stories as Iowa (11-6, 3-3 in Big Ten) extended its win streak to three games.

Payton Sandfort's slump is over and it's giving Iowa energy

After a 0-19 start from the field in Big Ten play, Sandfort is averaging 20 points per game during Iowa's win streak. He had high expectations coming into the season, but his emergence at this point in the season has created a domino effect across the team.

"There's no one I'm more happy for than Payton," Murray said. "He deserved every bit of it... he brings energy on the court. When he hits big 3s, everyone is smiling and congratulating him. He just brings a different type of energy that our team feeds off of."

McCaffery recalled the moment he offered Sandfort a scholarship postgame, after an impressive performance at a showcase during the summer before his junior year of high school. From that point, Sandfort's continued to impress him. McCaffery is a coach that's known for backing his players, his message to Sandfort during his slump was consistent: Don't be too hard on yourself and the team will keep coming to you. It's starting to pay off.

More:It looks like Payton Sandfort's slump is over. That adds another dimension to Iowa basketball

It might've arrived later than expected, but Sandfort's breakout campaign might be here.

"I'm back into my groove at practice," Sandfort said. "I think everyone around me knew it would click at some point, so I'm just proud of myself for sticking with it and I'm glad we got here."

A look at Riley Mulvey's admirable performance

Michigan forward Tarris Reed Jr. (32) fights for a rebound with Iowa forward Riley Mulvey (44) during the first half of  Thursday's game.

It hasn't happened many times this season, but it was inevitable that Iowa's frontcourt would get into foul trouble at some point. On Thursday, the Hawkeyes found themselves in a pinch when Filip Rebraca was charged with two fouls in the first half and a third foul early in the second half. McCaffery called on sophomore Riley Mulvey for relief, and the young center showed flashes.

McCaffery noted on Wednesday that Mulvey's been taking strides in practice including an extended run on Iowa's scout team. Mulvey logged a career-high 13 minutes against Michigan, recording 4 points and two rebounds.

"He's more physical and he's more aware," McCaffery said. "He did make some mistakes, maybe experience lack of experience mistakes.. we told him to run the floor and the first time he does, he gets the layup and got a few rebounds. I thought for the most part he's where he was supposed to be, so I'm really proud of him."

Mulvey's improved physicality showed on offense with several screens that freed up shot opportunities. However, McCaffery's reference to mistakes were on the defensive side when Mulvey was too indecisive on pick-and-rolls that allowed for Howard's 3-pointers.

All things considered, Mulvey did enough to stabilize things until Rebraca checked back in. His extended run showed that the moment wasn't too big and with Josh Ogundele's status in question, Mulvey will be in line for more opportunities.

Josh Dix's career night could be a sign of things to come

It was almost one year ago when freshman guard Josh Dix suffered a gruesome leg injury that put his immediate basketball future in jeopardy. Following Thursday's game, Dix admitted that he didn't know what would happen next. But his 10 points, three rebounds and five assists in a career-high 31 minutes provided a snapshot of what he could provide off of the bench.

What was most notable about Dix's play Thursday was that he served as the point guard down the stretch. He revealed that it's a new wrinkle McCaffery implemented in practice to help free up fellow freshman Dasonte Bowen for more off-ball opportunities.

More on-ball opportunities for Dix, coupled with more playing time could remedy a few areas on Iowa's team: More stability at point guard, another perimeter shooting option and a willing defender. It'll be interesting to see how much playing time Dix carves out over the next few games but he showed an ability to be a potential bench spark.

"Coach McCaffery is telling me to stay confident in my abilities and just stay ready whenever my number is called," Dix said. "That's what I'm trying to do."