By Pat Harty
The depleted Iowa men's basketball team nearly defied the odds again, and this time it came at a place where Iowa hardly ever wins, and sometimes, isn't even competitive.
Michigan State overcame a 10-point deficit early in the second half to prevail 78-70 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich., where Iowa has only won twice since 1993.
Michigan State senior point guard Cassius Winston scored 19 points of his 20 points in the second half and also finished with a game-high nine assists as the 24th-ranked Spartans improved to 11-6 in the Big Ten and 19-9 overall.
Iowa fell to 10-7 in the Big Ten and 19-9 overall, and also fell out of a five-team tie for second place in the conference with just three games remaining.
"Cassius got away from us a little bit there," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said on the Learfield post-game radio show. "But I thought we executed our late-game stuff and we moved the ball. We got good shots. We had a couple clean looks at threes."
Iowa only had seven recruited scholarship players available for Tuesday’s game as starting shooting guard C.J. Fredrick missed his third consecutive game due to an ankle injury. Iowa had won two games in a row against Minnesota and Ohio State without Fredrick, and was in position to make it three wins in a row until Winston took over the game in the second half.
The lack of depth and scoring options finally cost Iowa, which in addition to being without Fredrick, also had to overcome its second leading scorer, Joe Wieskamp, being held to just four points.
"They didn't fall for him, but he didn't go hunting," Fran McCaffery said of Wieskamp. "And he didn't start taking bad shots."
Junior center Luka Garza led Iowa in scoring as he almost always does with 20 points and nine rebounds. It marked the 13th consecutive game that Garza has scored at least 20 points, and that equals Fred Brown’s streak during the 1970-71 season.
But Garza only scored eight points in the second half while being guarded mostly by senior Xavier Tillman.
Garza also missed all five of his shots from 3-point range, and Iowa only made 6-of-27 threes as a team, while Michigan State made six of its seven 3-point baskets in the second half.
Senior forward Ryan Kriener helped to pick up the scoring slack for Iowa with 18 points despite being in foul trouble throughout the game.
Kriener fouled out in the final seconds and then waved to the Michigan State student section, which is known as Izzone, before taking a seat.
"Kriener was tremendous," said Fran McCaffery. "I couldn't be more proud of him."
The loss pretty much has eliminated Iowa from the hotly contested race for the Big Ten regular-season title, considering Iowa trails Maryland by three games in the loss column with just three games left to play.
But there still is plenty for this Iowa to accomplish as it tries to improve its seed for the NCAA Tournament.
The challenge now is to not let the Michigan State loss linger and become two losses.
Iowa’s next game is against Penn State on Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Michigan State kept chipping away at the deficit in the second half, which reached 10 points, and finally took the lead at 53-51 on a basket by Tillman with 10:58 left in the game.
Winston led the comeback in the second half after scoring just one point in the first half and being challenged by Michigan State coach Tom Izzo during halftime.
Michigan State desperately needed its All-America senior point guard to step up in the second half and Winston delivered in spectacular fashion.
But Garza and his cohorts didn’t wilt under the pressure.
Iowa regained the lead at 55-53 on two free throws by Bakari Evelyn with 8:47 remaining, and it seemed clear at the point that the outcome of this game wouldn’t be decided until the very end.
Kriener made a basket to give Iowa a 57-54 lead with just over eight minutes left to play, and then Garza followed with a basket that expanded the lead to 59-56 with just under seven minutes remaining.
Winston made two free throws that evened the score at 61-61 with 4:38 left to play, and then he helped force a turnover on Iowa’s next offensive possession that led two free throws by Rocket Watts, giving he Spartans a 63-61 lead with 4:17 remaining.
Watts then made a 3-point basket from near the top of the with the shot clock winding down that gave the Spartans a 66-61 lead with 3:14 left to play.
But then Evelyn answered with a three for Iowa on its next possession, trimming the deficit to 66-64.
Watts then made a layup with just over one minute to play that expanded Michigan State’s lead 70-64.
Garza was then called for traveling on Iowa’s next possession and Winston made two free throws with 1:05 remaining to give the Spartans a 72-64 lead.
Kriener scored five points quickly, but then picked up two early fouls and only played a total of four minutes in the first half.
So for the most of the first half, Iowa was down to just six recruited scholarship players, and yet, still led 33-27 at halftime.
Garza missed his first four shots of the game, but then made five of his next eight field-goal attempts in the first half and had a team-high 12 points at halftime.
Connor McCaffery also came up big in the first half with seven points, four assists and zero turnovers. The son of Iowa coach Fran McCaffery finished with 11 points, seven assists, three steals and zero turnovers.