Michigan basketball’s Moussa Diabate unleashes fury on Iowa in 84-79 victory

IOWA CITY, Iowa — From the moment Michigan basketball welcomed freshman forward Moussa Diabate to Ann Arbor, the descriptions from teammates and coaches seemed to land on attributes that separate the passionate, comedic, hyper-athletic and ultra-skilled big man from anyone else on the roster.

If questions about Diabate are posed to coach Juwan Howard, the answers always touch on his work ethic and desire to improve, his penchant for going to the gym two and three times per day until the coaches tell him to stop. If questions are posed to his teammates, the responses embody their admiration for a player whose skill set will propel Diabate to the NBA much sooner than later.

And if questions are posed to Iowa, a team whose season was wavering just like Michigan’s, the replies might be swapped for an absence of speech following 40 minutes of futile efforts to stop him.

Five days after Diabate yielded most of the 28 points scored by Ohio State’s star E.J. Liddell, he matched that point total in the best game of his young career. Diabate poured in 28 points and grabbed eight rebounds to outshine Keegan Murray, the Big Ten’s leading scorer and the player he was responsible for guarding much of the evening. Michigan’s combination of Diabate and center Hunter Dickinson scored 42 points and 17 rebounds to propel the Wolverines to their biggest road victory of the season by dominating the paint.

The Wolverines withstood a frantic rally by the Hawkeyes to preserve an 84-79 win that inches them closer to an NCAA tournament berth.

Michigan forward Moussa Diabate dunks the ball during the first half on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

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Michigan was dealt a blow shortly before tipoff when small forward Terrance Williams II was ruled out with a sprained left ankle. Williams, who leads U-M in minutes and points per game among reserves, participated in warmups and was on the bench with his teammates but never entered the game.

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An already thin group of substitutes grew thinner just a few days after associate head coach Phil Martelli stressed the need for more production from the backups and Howard assured reporters there was plenty of scoring available. But when Michigan limped into foul trouble late in the first half, the scarcely used Jace Howard and walk-on Jaron Faulds were called into action.

How Michigan planned to defend Iowa forward Keegan Murray, who entered as the Big Ten’s leading scorer at 23.3 points per game, was of paramount importance following a game in which the similarly built E.J. Liddell of Ohio State scored 28 and got to the free-throw line at will.

The assignment once again fell to Diabate, whom Howard said had fire in his eyes during a locker room embrace after losing to the Buckeyes last Saturday. Murray tested the freshman from the opening tap and scored five points on Iowa’s first two possessions while also drawing a foul. But Diabate responded with an excellent first-half performance that landed somewhere between fearlessness and youthful bravado. He scored 12 points and grabbed four rebounds to finish within a point of Murray (13 points, two rebounds) at the break.

Short hook shots from Diabate were paired with equally effective inside scoring from Dickinson, who finished the half with eight points, three rebounds and four assists in a well-rounded showing. Their contributions toward Michigan’s 26 points in the paint during the opening 20 minutes were vital on a night when the Wolverines made one of their first 12 shots from beyond the arc.

Iowa forward Keegan Murray drives around Michigan forward Moussa Diabate during the first half Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Iowa City, Iowa.

The ways Dickinson and Diabate influenced the game differed in response to Iowa’s defensive strategy for each player. With the Hawkeyes favoring hard double teams on Dickinson, the opportunities for cross-court passes out of the post were plentiful, and Michigan’s star connected with Jones and Brooks for triples in the opening minutes of the second half as U-M seized the lead. He finished with a team-high XX assists.

While Dickinson facilitated, Diabate relished the single coverage he received from Murray, Filip Rebraca and anyone else the Hawkeyes threw in his direction. Diabate blended soft hook shots in the lane with the kind of face-up ability NBA teams covet, spinning and wriggling his way to the hoop for baskets through contact. He also flashed a mid-range jumper by swishing a baseline fadeaway that extended Michigan’s lead to 10 with 7:52 remaining and afforded Diabate the chance to flex his muscles, bellow and extoll while retreating down the court.

There was fire in his eyes last Saturday, and Diabate unleashed it Thursday against the Hawkeyes.

Contact Michael Cohen at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan basketball’s Moussa Diabate unleashes on Iowa in 84-79 win


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