IOWA CITY, Ia. -- The giant mountain that is Michigan State continues to stand in Iowa's way.
The Hawkeyes played some of their best basketball of the year for a while Thursday night. They led by 11 after the first half. They seemed ready to shake the Spartans' oppressive hold on this series.
But in the end, Sparty was Sparty, and the result was familiar. Michigan State not only won, but won going away. The final was 75-61 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
That's nine in a row for coach Tom Izzo against Fran McCaffery. That's 14 out of 15 for Michigan State vs. Iowa.
"I don't even know what to say to Frannie," Izzo said. "I just think they are a good team. Like sometimes happens, some teams play better against certain teams. I mean, it's ridiculous. Because they're good. They're really good."
In this one, the Spartans (11-5, 2-1 Big Ten Conference) put the ball into the hands of guard Travis Trice. And the Hawkeyes inexplicably kept leaving him open to burn them.
Trice buried seven 3-pointers, three during a personal 11-point surge that sucked the life out of what was a raucous announced crowd of 15,054. The last of them, with 7:57 left, came with no Hawkeye defender within at least five feet and gave Michigan State a 58-51 lead.
"He made seven out of eight (from 3)," said Iowa's Aaron White, held to a season-low eight points. "It's kind of surprising how you let a guy get away from you when he keeps making 'em."
White held to season-low 8 points.
It got worse when Denzel Valentine got hot, too. He canned four 3-pointers, the last two to cap a startling, 39-11 second-half surge between the 16:37 and 3:20 marks.
Michigan State hit its first eight 3-point attempts in the second half and finished 12-for-17 for the game.
"They were on for a reason," White said. "It was because of our inability to raise the bar defensively. You do, sometimes, have to tip your hat … they were making 'em."
Well before the game spun out of control, Hawkeye heads were hanging. It was a disturbing return of a second-half trend of collapses that haunted them in nonconference losses to Texas, Iowa State and Northern Iowa.
"We just have to stay after it mentally," Iowa guard Anthony Clemmons said. "In those moments, you have to be mentally tough."
The Iowa guard faces questions after ninth straight loss to Michigan State.
How could this happen again? Wasn't this lesson already learned?
"We're too up-and-down," said Jarrod Uthoff, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds. "We've just got to keep an even keel."
After the first 20 minutes, it looked like the Hawkeyes (also 11-5, 2-1) would cruise into Tuesday's game at Minnesota with a 3-0 Big Ten mark. And a lot of that had to do with Gabe Olaseni, who would finish with a career-high-tying 18 points.
Olaseni didn't enter the game until 14:13 remained in the first half. Iowa was trailing 14-8.
All Olaseni did was rattle off 13 points in a span of 6:14. Peter Jok got into the act with back-to-back jumpers. Carver-Hawkeye was electric, and before you knew it, the lead was 33-22.
Almost all of Iowa's first-half resurgence happened without White in the scorebook. Iowa's leading scorer and rebounder didn't get his first two points until swishing a pair of free throws after Tom Izzo was issued a technical foul with 25.8 seconds left in the first half. Izzo continued to have words with the officials on his way to the halftime locker room, with Iowa leading 39-28.
"I deserved it. Somebody had to do something," Izzo said. "We were playing very lackadaisical. So yeah, it was a message to them."
The Michigan State coach was T'd up with 25 seconds left in the first half.
Coming out of the locker room, Michigan State was a different team. And so was Iowa. And that meant a familiar fate for the Hawkeyes against their green-and-white nemesis.
Now, they must regroup before heading to Minneapolis.
"I mean, they feel terrible. I feel terrible," McCaffery said. "But we're going to keep fighting. Keep coaching them up. They're great kids. We've proven we can be really good. We lost to a really good team. We have to be respectful of who beat us and do better the next time we take the floor. And that's in practice, not Tuesday."