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No. 8 Iowa 84, Michigan State 78: Here's what we learned

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Once Iowa stopped trying to stretch the floor Tuesday, it was able to stretch its lead.

The No. 8 Hawkeyes found themselves in a tight game with Michigan State, which was relying on 3-point shooting and offensive rebounds to keep the score close. So Iowa coach Fran McCaffery sat down his trio of 3-point shooters — Jordan Bohannon, CJ Fredrick and  Joe Wieskamp — and went with a lineup that provided better rebounding, perimeter defense and guards who could drive into the lane.

It worked.

Hawkeyes center Luka Garza scored 27 points, and Iowa's bench had its best game of the season with 39 points, in an 84-78 victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The game was originally scheduled for Jan. 14, but was moved back three weeks after the Spartans dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak.

It wasn't the usual recipe for Iowa (13-4, 7-3 Big Ten Conference), but it was necessary in order to hand the Spartans (8-7, 2-7) a fourth consecutive loss. Iowa snapped a two-game losing streak and prevailed against Michigan State for the first time in six tries.

Forward Jack Nunge had 12 points and eight rebounds off the bench. Backup point guard Joe Toussaint added 10 points and six assists. Iowa made only five of 17 3-point attempts, but dominated the Spartans inside, with 42 points in the paint.

And then, when the Spartans drew within two points late, Bohannon came back into the game to do what he has so often before in his five-year career: put a win on ice by sinking clutch free throws. He made four in a row down the stretch.

Iowa center Luka Garza (55) makes a basket as Michigan State forward Julius Marble II defends during a NCAA Big Ten Conference men's basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Here’s what we learned:

Iowa gets the fouls, but struggles at line

The Hawkeyes attempted only six free throws in Friday's 80-75 loss at Illinois, making just three of them. That was a sore point with the team after that game, and clearly an emphasis against Michigan State.

LEISTIKOW: Let's hope Iowa, Illinois meet again this season

The Spartans were whistled for 15 fouls in the first half. The Hawkeyes got into the bonus early in the second half as well. But Iowa never took full advantage of its opportunity to get free points, missing 12 of its 35 free-throw attempts.

Garza went just 8-for-14. It was one reason why the Hawkeyes were never able to push out to a comfortable lead against the Spartans.

Hawkeyes pay for not defending 3-point arc

Michigan State entered on a three-game losing streak, with poor shooting one of the main culprits. But Spartans coach Tom Izzo knows that the Hawkeyes can be exploited on defense, so he went with a starting lineup that contained his best shooters. It quickly worked.

Michigan State, a 32.7% 3-point shooting team, made its first six against Iowa and built an 11-point lead. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery lit into his team for being late on closeouts and kept summoning new substitutes into the game, trying to find a group that would give a better effort in that regard. Ultimately, that worked, although it might have been a combination of better perimeter defense and the Spartans coming back down to earth.

Patrick McCaffery contested a corner 3-pointer out of a timeout and Michigan State finally missed one. Then another. The Spartans finished the first  half by missing six of their final eight 3-point attempts and the Hawkeyes were able to build a 48-43 lead.

Jack Nunge, Joe Toussaint are game-changers

Iowa’s best two reserves in the first half were point guard Joe Toussaint and power forward Jack Nunge. Fran McCaffery rode those two for a 10-minute stretch because they were so good on both ends of the court.

Toussaint had six points and three assists, taking it to Michigan State’s Foster Loyer and making all four of his free throws. His best play may have been on a shot that missed. Toussaint, at 6-feet, drove into the lane and drew two defenders near the basket. Nunge noticed it immediately and raced to the weak side to pluck the rebound of Toussaint’s miss and laid it in while being fouled.

Iowa forward Jack Nunge (2) makes a 3-point basket as Michigan State forward Malik Hall, left, defends during a NCAA Big Ten Conference men's basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Later, Nunge twice tipped the ball at the rim while surrounded by Spartans. The second attempt went in. He also canned a pair of 3-pointers. Nunge played the final 13 minutes of the half and came up with 11 points and a team-high seven rebounds.

The 6-11 Nunge, when paired alongside Garza, can really put pressure on opponents who are concentrating on stopping the Hawkeyes’ star. And he showed that Tuesday. It was his best game in Big Ten play, right when Iowa needed it most.

Iowa next hosts Ohio State at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.