Spartans will bring swagger to Carver-Hawkeye Thursday
IOWA CITY, Ia. –When Michigan State visits Iowa on Thursday, coach Tom Izzo's team will take the floor at Carver-Hawkeye Arena expecting to win.
It's not a beauty contest as much as a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-dirty mantra. Swagger, defined by mental toughness. Inflict your will on the opponent.
"They have a swagger, no question about it," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "They have a defensive style of play that keeps them in games if they're not shooting the ball well. They've got talented players. They played great (against Indiana)."
Michigan State got into the Hoosiers from the get-go Monday, allowing just four points in the game's first 10 minutes and piling up a 50-28 rebounding edge. The final score was 70-50, and it wasn't that close. A vintage win by an Izzo-coached team.
"They get into your stuff," Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff said. "They're aggressive, especially defensively. They'll be chopping you. They'll be hacking you, getting in your head. They make you play tentative. That's exactly what we can't do. If we play aggressively, we'll be fine."
Iowa outscored Nebraska 20-8 in the final 8 minutes of a 70-59 victory of its own Monday. Aaron White made a living at the free-throw line again (12-for-15). And the season's feel-good story, senior center GabeOlaseni, had a career-high 18 points.
After playing tentatively early in his career, afraid to make a mistake, Olaseni improves before our eyes game after game.
"You could just see he's playing with great confidence," McCaffery said.
Now 11-4 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten, Thursday's game is an opportunity for the Hawkeyes to polish their second-wind season against the league's gold standard.
"They take the floor expecting they're going to beat whomever lines up across from them," White said. "You don't want to go through this thing and not beat a team."
White, Iowa's leading scorer and rebounder, has never celebrated a victory over Michigan State. No one in an Iowa uniform has. The Spartans have defeated Iowa eight straight times, and 13 of the past 14. The Hawkeyes have had the game in hand the past two seasons at Carver-Hawkeye Arena but couldn't close the deal.
Playing without leading scorer Devyn Marble two years ago, Iowa was up three points with about a minute to play. Michigan State's Branden Dawson chased down an offensive rebound and got it to Gary Harris, who was fouled by White shooting a 3. He made all three free throws. Then Dawson picked off Mike Gesell's pass intended for ZachMcCabe, raced down the floor and dunked it. The Spartans won 62-59.
Last season, when Michigan State played without the injured Dawson and Adreian Payne, Iowa should have won. The Hawkeyes made just 12-of-20 free throws in the second half and allowed six offensive rebounds. Marble missed a shot in the final seconds of regulation with the score tied, and MelsahnBasabe couldn't convert on the putback. Michigan State won in overtime 71-69.
"We weren't as mentally tough then as we are now," said Iowa point guard Anthony Clemmons, a Lansing, Mich., native. "We've got to focus on making the big plays when we need to."
McCaffery and his staff deserve credit for pulling this team out of the funk it was in after losses to Iowa State and Northern Iowa. The program's first 3-0 start in Big Ten play since the 2002-03 season would be the reward for beating the Spartans.
History tells us that won't be easy.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.