NEW YORK — Defense has been the major problem for the Iowa basketball team all season.
But in the final disheartening chapter of their season, it was the Hawkeyes’ offense that failed them.
They battled fifth-seeded Michigan into overtime Thursday in the second round of the Big Ten tournament but misfired on the last eight shots they attempted, going down to a season-ending 77-71 loss at Madison Square Garden.
Michigan had its worst 3-point shooting game of the season and played most of the overtime period without its top two players as Mo Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman both fouled out.
But the Wolverines still somehow advanced to play Nebraska in today’s tournament quarterfinals.
"I have no idea how we won the game," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "I have a lot of respect for Iowa. They have great young talent. We were very fortunate to get the win.
"The only way we could win that game was defense," he added. "The foul shots didn't go in. The 3s didn't go in. I think one guy made a 3 … but we'll take it. Our defense won the game."
Iowa (14-19) shot 55.2 percent from the field in opening a 40-35 halftime lead, but it made only 30.5 percent of its shots after that, and the offense really stagnated in overtime against a stubborn Michigan defense.
"They're long. They're athletic. They've got veteran guys," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "And they were physical and moved their feet. I don't think there was anything tricky. Just good, solid, fundamental defense, which you would expect from one of John's teams."
The Hawkeyes opened a 69-67 lead in overtime on Luka Garza’s short jump shot, then struggled to put up any more points the rest of the way. They got only two points, on a pair of throws, after that.
Michigan grabbed the lead on Duncan Robinson’s 3-point field goal with 2 minutes, 19 seconds remaining — only the Wolverines’ third 3 of the game — and they managed to hold on from there despite making only half of their 14 free throw attempts in the extra period.
Iowa was still within striking distance at 74-71 with a minute to go, but Garza, Isaiah Moss and Jordan Bohannon all missed 3-point attempts after that.
Robinson finally gave the Wolverines some breathing room when he made two foul shots with 10.1 seconds left.
Charles Matthews led Michigan (24-7) with 16 points, with Zavier Simpson adding 12 and Robinson and Wagner 11 apiece. Beilein also credited Simpson with doing an "incredible" defensive job on Bohannon.
The Iowa point guard collected 11 points, including a 3-pointer that sent the game to overtime, but he was only 3 for 14 from the field after scoring 25 points in each of the two previous games.
Ryan Kriener led the Hawkeyes with 14 points, one short of the career high he set last week against Minnesota, and Garza and Tyler Cook each added 13.
Kriener came off the bench to spark a 14-4 scoring run to finish the first half, giving the Hawkeyes the lead, but Michigan scored the first 11 points of the second half to regain the upper hand.
The Wolverines still were clinging to a 67-61 lead with a minute to go in regulation before Nicholas Baer made a 3 to slice the lead in half.
Garza and Bohannon missed 3-pointers after that, and Abdur-Rahkman had a chance to finish off Iowa with 27.8 seconds left, but he missed the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity.
Bohannon then drilled a 3 with 16.3 seconds to go to tie it. Abdur-Rahkman missed on a drive as time ran out in regulation.
"We just knew it was win or go home," Matthews said of the Wolverines’ mindset at that point. "We understand they made a great run at the end, and we said we just want to stick together and try to come out of here with the win."
Iowa struggled with 3-point defense in the final weeks of the season, giving up a dozen or more 3-pointers in four of the previous five games, including 14 in an opening-round victory over Illinois on Wednesday.
However, Michigan went more than 30 minutes without a 3 before Robinson made two of them in quick succession in the middle of the second half. The Wolverines’ only other 3-pointer was the one by Robinson in overtime.
"Fortunately enough, we were able to make some late, but at the same time it puts more pressure on our defense," Robinson said. "We stepped up in that area today."