This was the game where Iowa proved it was neither a fluke nor a pushover.
In a stunning 75-59 win over tri-Big Ten champion Michigan on Jan. 14, the Hawkeyes started strong and maintained a consistent effort. Iowa guard Matt Gatens shut down Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr., forcing the sophomore scoring threat to miss 11-of-13 shots from the field, including all eight 3-point attempts.
"You just have to stay with him, don’t give him any open looks, limit his touches and try to keep uncomfortable," Gatens said. "I thought we did a good job of that."
Iowa led the No. 13 Wolverines by four points late in the first half when Gatens and Devyn Marble took over in an 11-5 run to give the Hawkeyes a 33-23 halftime. The tandem combined for 11 points during the run.
Michigan managed to cut Iowa's lead to six points with 12:42 left in the game, but Iowa went on a 10-0 run and never was seriously threatened the rest of the game.
Michigan cut Iowa's lead to 60-48 with 5:22 left in the game. On Iowa's next possession, Iowa's Bryce Cartwright missed a 3-point shot, and the ball caromed to mid-court. Iowa's Zach McCabe battled several Wolverines for the rebound and grabbed the ball. Eventually it got passed to Gatens, who drilled a 3-pointer to push the lead to 15 points.
"I thought that might have been the play of the game," Gatens said of McCabe's effort. "That's a winning play. A guy that understands what it takes and he had like three guys on that side of the court. It was going to be an easy layup or dunk for them, but he dove on it and saved it and got it to us, and I don't know if we hit a shot or something right after it."
Gatens played lockdown defense on Hardaway Jr., a role to which Gatens has been accustomed under Fran McCaffery. But Gatens also came up big offensively, scoring 19 points on 5-of-10 shooting. He also had four 3-pointers, grabbed three rebounds and had three steals in 38 minutes. Gatens missed his first five shots of the game, then hit his last five. Gatens' second-half execution was a theme for the whole season.
"I thought even early when he was missing, he was taking great looks and they all looked like they were going to go in, and then he got hot," McCaffery said. "He made big shots late when we needed them, free throws late when we needed them. And just an incredibly complete game with phenomenal effort focusing concentration and really proud of him."
Iowa won its first two Big Ten road games against Wisconsin and Minnesota but faltered before facing Michigan. The Hawkeyes were blasted by a combined 63 points in losses to Michigan State and Ohio State. The home victory against Michigan showed Iowa was able to discard bad losses and focus on the task at hand.
"It shows that we have a tough squad and guys that believe," Gatens said. "Coaches that believe and have instilled that in us and guys that want to make winning plays. That’s what it takes to win games in this league. I think the more guys understand, the better off we’re going to be."
"We knew we were going to beat that team, and I think that’s the attitude we came out with," Iowa sophomore guard Devyn Marble said afterward. "I feel like we were supposed to beat that team."
In front of a nearly full house, Iowa routed Penn State 77-64 on Feb. 4. The program celebrated the 25th anniversary of the 1987 Elite Eight team and rolled to a 45-19 second-half lead before coasting to the win.