Indianapolis — Michigan now needs three wins to reach the NCAA Tournament.
Clearly, that seems unrealistic for a sub-.500 team, but that’s how the Wolverines are approaching this Big Ten tournament.
Thanks to a 22-point effort by Manny Harris, they scratched one victory off the list Thursday, beating Iowa, 59-52, in the first game of the tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Wolverines will play top-seeded Ohio State on Friday at noon in the first quarterfinal of the day. The fifth-ranked Buckeyes had a bye and enter the game with a 24-7 record.
“It was important for this team to come out with energy and aggressiveness because we know it’s win or go home,” Harris said. “We’re still playing for something, and that’s the NCAA Tournament, and we’re going to keep fighting until it’s over.”
Michigan (15-16) beat Iowa (10-22) for the third time this season. It’s also the third straight year the Wolverines have beaten the Hawkeyes in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
Senior DeShawn Sims, who averaged 23.5 points in the first two games against Iowa this year, scored 14 Thursday. Sims and Harris combined for Michigan’s first 21 points.
The Wolverines built a 16-point lead in the first half.
“(The start) was good for our psyche,” said sophomore Zack Novack, alluding to Michigan’s four losses in its previous five games entering the tournament. “We came out, shots were falling, and people were making big plays.”
Michigan led 32-23 at halftime but was pushed on its heels early in the second half. Sims scored the first basket coming out of halftime, then the Hawkeyes quickly cut that lead to 34-30 thanks to a 7-0 run.
But Novak answered with a 3-pointer followed by a shot by Harris to expand Michigan’s lead to nine points.
Michigan built another 16-point lead in the second half, but had three of its five turnovers in the final four minutes. Iowa took advantage of those mistakes and the Wolverines’ cold shooting and went on an 11-0 run. Matt Gatens scored a layup off a steal to cut Michigan’s lead to 57-52 with 1:18 left.
“I liked everything until those last four minutes,” U-M coach John Beilein said.
Harris scored two free throws with 20 seconds left to seal the win.
Now the Wolverines will have their hands full with Ohio State. The teams split their regular-season series, but the Buckeyes were without national player of the year favorite Evan Turner when they lost, 73-64, at Michigan in early January. More recently, the Buckeyes with a healthy Turner beat the Wolverines, 66-55, in Columbus.
“Adding (Turner), it’s just an X-factor that makes them a league co-champion and a great chance to win the national championship,” Beilein said.