Iowa outfights No. 4 Spartans: 'We knew we were the better team'
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Iowa made good on its promise: It took the fight to fourth-ranked Michigan State for all 40 minutes. The result was a monumental victory for the Hawkeye basketball program.
No. 16 Iowa broke an 18-game losing streak in the Breslin Center, shell-shocking the Spartans 76-59 Thursday for its first win here in 23 years. And now Iowa is not only off to a 4-0 Big Ten Conference start for the first time since 1998-99 (Tom Davis’ final season as coach), it just swept one of the league’s championship favorites.
“We had a lot of fight. Guys stepped up and made big plays for us," said Iowa star Jarrod Uthoff, continuing to escalate his case for Big Ten player of the year with 15 points and 10 rebounds. "We didn’t back down at any point in time.
"We knew we were the better team from the get-go. We wanted to go out and prove it. And we did.”
Iowa shot 43 percent; Michigan State shot 42. The tougher team won, plain and simple.
"I told (Iowa coach Fran McCaffery) after the game, I thought for years that he's tough, but I didn't think his teams were as tough, personally," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "I just think they played harder."
Iowa moved to 13-3. The Spartans, by the way, are 0-2 against Iowa, 16-0 against everyone else (including No. 1 Kansas).
Peter Jok scored 23 points to lead the way. His two-handed slam off Michigan State’s 14th first-half turnover gave Iowa a startling 47-25 edge at halftime. One Michigan State fan in the Breslin Center muttered, “Does Iowa have our number or what?”
Indeed, after losing nine in a row and 14 of 15 against the Spartans, Iowa has won two straight in a span of 17 days. And there's no asterisk, like the Dec. 29 83-70 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena got with Spartans star Denzel Valentine sidelined.
Valentine started Thursday for the first time since knee surgery and scored 14 points in 37 minutes.
“All we’ve been hearing about is excuses of how we beat them the first game without Denzel," Jok said. "We heard people talking about it was a fluke the first game. We came out ready to play."
Ready to start after nine days off, and ready to finish.
There was no second-half meltdown in a hostile road venue this time for Iowa, which established a 23-point second-half lead on Anthony Clemmons' bucket with 11 minutes, 56 seconds to go. Iowa infamously squandered a 20-point second-half cushion Dec. 10 at Iowa State, losing by one in the final seconds.
But the Hawkeyes have won six in a row since, including three against Big Ten heavyweights.
When reigning Big Ten player of the week Mike Gesell went to the bench with his second foul just 2:16 into the game with Iowa trailing 7-5, it seemed like an ominous sign.
But the way Iowa rained in 3-pointers, it didn’t need its fourth-year starting point guard. At one point in the first half the Hawkeyes had nine 3-pointers (on 14 attempts) to Michigan State’s seven baskets total. Clemmons, playing against his hometown team, ran the point for almost the entire first half and ended with 13 points in 31 gutty minutes.
"I give Clemmons credit again. Not a very good shooter, hit two big 3s in the first half," Izzo said. "I think Fran hit a 3 in the first half."
The key out of the break would be finishing, unlike the humbling experience in Ames. Iowa did so by maintaining an edge in hustle plays, including a 39-35 advantage on the boards vs. the nation’s leader in rebounding margin. Five offensive rebounds came on one second-half possession.
“We knew they were going to come after us in the second half," McCaffery said. "We only had one turnover in the second half."
That's how you win in front of 14,797 screaming fans while shooting 34 percent in the second half.
This win was a big deal, bigger than in 2014 at No. 3 Ohio State, Iowa's previous road win over a top-five team. That victory was a breakthrough. Thursday's win here was a statement.
A sellout crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena will await one of the nation's hottest teams in 13-3 Iowa against Michigan at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
“I look at it like this – 4-0, and that’s terrific. But you know what we’ve got coming. We’ve got 14 more, all of them difficult. It’s great to be able to go on the road and win," McCaffery said. "I know what that means in terms of RPI and things like that. But it just makes the next one tougher. It makes the next game bigger.”