By Susan Harman
IOWA CITY, Iowa – On Tuesday, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo asked his top-ranked Spartans to honor his father, who died Monday. Izzo asked not for a victory in his honor but for the kind of effort that has built the program into one of the nation’s best.
But it was unranked Iowa that played with the kind of effort, enthusiasm and, yes, toughness that the Spartans are known for, as the Hawkeyes emerged with an 83-70 victory before a nearly full Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd.
“Iowa played awfully well. It’s one of the rare times in my career where I thought we got punked,” Izzo said. “We got out-physicalled; we got out-hustled; they got every loose ball. “We’ve beaten them pretty good the last 10 years. We got some of our own medicine.”
Indeed, MSU has been a thorn in Iowa’s side for years. The Spartans have won 14 of the last 15 games between the teams including nine in a row prior to Tuesday. And this time they came into town ranked No. 1 with a 13-0 record. Iowa (10-3, 1-0) hadn’t defeated a top-ranked team since the first game of the Steve Alford era.
“We really sustained effort and paid attention to detail with regard to the game plan,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “We put pressure on the ball; we put pressure on the next pass. I think we disrupted their offense quite a bit.”
“It’s a stepping stone, it’s the way to start the Big Ten off right,” senior Mike Gesell said. “It felt pretty good to finally beat them. I’ve never been able to beat them in my career.”
The Hawkeyes took control with a 10-0 run in the first half when MSU went eight empty possessions, missing all six of its shots and turning the ball over three times. Iowa led 31-17 after the run, and the lead was never less than 10 points the rest of the way.
Defense and some sloppy Spartan ball handling were keys.
“Anthony Clemons did an unbelievable job on (guard Bryn) Forbes,” Izzo said. “He took him to the cleaners.”
Neither team shot well in the first half, but MSU committed 11 turnovers to three for Iowa. Iowa had five more steals, and Iowa made four 3-pointers to none for MSU.
With leading scorer Denzel Valentine out after knee surgery, McCaffery said the MSU offense came down to Forbes, guard Eron Harris and post Matt Costello. Costello and Harris combined for 38 points, but Forbes was held to three on 1-of-5 shooting.
“We didn’t give (Forbes) any clean looks,” McCaffery said. “We didn’t give him anything in transition. We didn’t give him anything easy off down screens.”
Michigan State made a couple runs at Iowa in the second half, but Iowa’s veteran lineup responded each time. Gesell took control when the Spartans got within 10 points with about 6 minutes left.
He took a charge on a fast break and then scored on a bizarre-looking shot in the lane.
“I was trying to get fouled,” Gesell said. “He kind of jumped into me, so I thought I’d get a foul called there. When I made the shot…you know it feels good to make one of those.”
“His decision-making was really incredible because you don’t have a lot of opportunities to drive against that defense,” McCaffery said. “You have to pick your shots, when you go and when you don’t go. He was getting it to the rim, and he was getting them in foul trouble.”
MSU’s Harris missed the front end of a one-and-one and on Iowa’s next possession Gesell drove by the Spartans’ Tum Tum Harris. Tum Tum is fast fast and Iowa had trouble staying in front of him all game, but Gesell drove by him down the lane, was fouled and made both free throws. MSU turned the ball over, and Gesell drove and fed Adam Woodbury for a layup. All of a sudden it was Iowa 69, Michigan State 53 with about 4:30 left.
The rest of the game was a parade to the free-throw line. Gesell made 8-of-10 and Peter Jok made 4-of-4 in the final 2:28.
Gesell led Iowa with 25 points. Peter Jok had 19, Nicholas Baer 11 and Jarrod Uthoff, who had a rare off-night, finished with 10. Iowa flourished even though Uthoff played just six minutes of the first half and struggled with turnovers and poor shooting in the second half. The bench, led by Baer, Dom Uhl and Ahmad Wagner was aggressive and effective.
Iowa is at Purdue on Saturday.