Michigan State coach Tom Izzo speaks after his team outlasted the Hawkeyes, 96-93, in Iowa City. Chad Leistikow/The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa hadn't been in a position like this all year.
And most people didn't expect it to happen against No. 4 Michigan State.
But the Hawkeyes scraped together their best performance of a trying season and pushed the Spartans all the way to the final horn before falling 96-93 on Tuesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It was the closest deficit of defeat of the season for Iowa, which proved unable to handle the pressure of the late-game situations against an opponent that is used to doing so.
The Spartans outscored Iowa 13-5 over the final 4 minutes to avoid the upset.
"I"m down on myself that we didn't call the right plays down the stretch," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said after his team failed to score on four of its final five possessions. "We had a couple of opportunities that we thought were going to work, and we'd had success up until that point. We missed a couple shots, and they capitalized."
Considering the last time the Hawkeyes hosted a top-five team they trailed Purdue 51-20 at halftime, it was a big step forward for the usually underachieving side.
The Hawkeyes got 26 points from Tyler Cook, 17 from Jordan Bohannon and 13 from Maishe Dailey off the bench. Isaiah Moss and Cordell Pemsl each added 11.
Bohannon, who has been battling an illness for five days, was throwing up all day Monday and sat out of practice, McCaffery said. He showed no ill effects, with six assists and no turnovers in 32 minutes.
"He's one tough dude," McCaffery said of his sophomore point guard. "Not surprised the way he played."
Michigan State (23-3, 11-2), playing a fifth game in 12 days, shot 56.1 percent from the field and scored 48 points in each half. It was just enough.
"That team is as good of an offensive team that we've played," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "I hope you all enjoyed the offensive fireworks, because I don't think either team played defense, to be honest with you."
Miles Bridges led Michigan State with 25 points. Nick Ward scored 17, including six dunks, but was limited to 12 minutes because Iowa's post players, Cook in particular, kept getting him in foul trouble.
The Hawkeyes played a superb second half and held a lead for 10 minutes and 35 seconds, until Spartans backup forward Kenny Goins took an open 3-pointer from the right wing that bounced twice on the rim and then through the net. It was only his third successful shot from the arc this season. It put Michigan State ahead 90-89.
"The 3 that bounced around a little bit. That's always a tough one when you have one of those, especially when it's not by one of the big scorers," McCaffery said.
Iowa had 14 assists and no turnovers in the second half. Until the final 31 seconds.
That's when Iowa turned it over twice and watched Michigan State seal the win.
The first came when Moss had the ball at the top of the key as the shot clock wound below 10 seconds and his team trailing 92-91. He appeared to have a brief open look but didn't shoot, and by the time he did, he had a defender in his face. His attempt as the shot clock expired was five feet short of the rim for a turnover.
"I just fumbled the ball, couldn't really get it together," Moss said.
The Spartans made 24 of their first 27 free throws to lead 96-93 with 6.3 seconds remaining. Dailey was inbounding the ball under the Michigan State basket. The Spartans pressed, double-teaming Bohannon to deny him the ball. Dailey lobbed a pass out past the 3-point line that Miles Bridges easily darted over to steal.
Dailey had to foul him with 3.7 seconds left. Bridges missed both free throws, but a Nicholas Baer half-court shot bounced off the front rim at the buzzer.
And thus did the emotional highlight of Iowa's season end with yet another loss, albeit a close one against one of the nation's best teams.
It's been that kind of season.
"Of course our objective is to win the game so that part sucks," Cook said. "But going up against one of the best teams in the country and playing them tough down to the wire is always a good thing, especially for us since we've kind of been struggling.
"I'm proud. I'm happy. And there's a lot of good things we can take from it."
Iowa next plays at Ohio State on Saturday.