Did Fran McCaffery's staredown with ref spark Iowa basketball's improbable win Saturday?

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

Lost in all the madness Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena was Fran McCaffery’s bizarre staredown with referee Kelly Pfeifer.

It came with 1:29 left in regulation and Iowa facing a 10-point deficit. Frustrated with the officiating as he often is, the Hawkeye basketball coach exited his team’s timeout and locked eyes with Pfeifer along the baseline. McCaffery had received a technical foul just moments earlier after Iowa was whistled for a foul while trying to trap the Spartans and force a jump ball.  

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Both men inched closer to each other, amid multiple attempts from the Iowa bench to get McCaffery’s attention, before the staredown ultimately subsided. No words were exchanged.

From there, the Hawkeyes took off en route to an improbable 112-106 overtime win over Michigan State. Iowa trailed by 11 points with a minute remaining before hitting five treys in the final 40 seconds to force overtime.  

Did McCaffery’s staredown spark the Hawkeyes’ comeback?

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” McCaffery deadpanned in the postgame presser.

What ensued after the staredown was nothing short of absurd. We’ll pick up the action with Iowa down 96-86 with 48 seconds left.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery stares at an official during a timeout late in regulation Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. His Hawkeyes went on to post an incredible comeback victory in overtime.

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Connor McCaffery 3-pointer: Michigan State 96, Iowa 89 (0:39)

Still a ways away from a comeback, Iowa kept its pulse alive with a downtown connection from McCaffery’s eldest son.

Kris Murray 3-pointer: Michigan State 96, Iowa 92 (0:32)

Plenty of fortunate breaks are needed to pull something like this off, and Iowa got a big one on a Spartans travel leading to a Murray trey. From down 10 to down 4 in 16 seconds.

Patrick McCaffery 3-pointer: Michigan State 98, Iowa 95 (0:21)

The craziest thing about Iowa’s comeback is the Spartans didn’t really struggle at the line the way most late collapses start. After A.J. Hoggard hit his first two of five free throws in the final 30 seconds, the younger McCaffery heaved one in from the top of the key. Still breathing, but barely.

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Connor McCaffery 3-pointer: Michigan State 100, Iowa 98 (0:10)

This is where the magic truly started. McCaffery, falling away while heavily guarded opposite the Iowa bench, splashed home a miracle heave that answered two more Hoggard free throws. Still, the Hawkeyes needed at least one more sequence of breaks.

Payton Sandfort 3-pointer: Michigan State 101, Iowa 101 (0:03)

Once Hoggard’s final regulation free-throw attempt fell off the rim and kept Iowa within one possession, you knew what was coming next. Michigan State opted not to foul in transition — and Sandfort made the Spartans pay, draining the game-tying shot off a Connor McCaffery assist.

Madness ensued.   

Overtime: Iowa 112, Michigan State 106

The Spartans were stunned. The Hawkeyes were rolling. And Iowa finally broke free for good with five straight points to grab a 108-103 lead with 1:06 left.

Tony Perkins, who was the first to try to coax Fran McCaffery back to the Iowa huddle during his late staredown, accounted for Iowa’s final six points to cement the win.

A wacky and wild day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, to say the least.  

Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.