No. 15 Iowa rolls at Breslin Center of all places
Tom Izzo's Spartans no match as Iowa cruises to 88-58 victory
By Pat Harty
Even a legendary head coach can only do so much when his team is at a disadvantage from a talent standpoint.
That was my impression from watching No. 15 Iowa dismantle Michigan State 88-58 on Saturday at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich.
Tom Izzo has won a national title at Michigan State in 2000, has led the Spartans to eight trips to the NCAA Final Four and was inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.
But Izzo was helpless on Saturday because his team had no answer for Iowa’s offensive firepower, even without C.J. Fredrick playing for the Hawkeyes due to an injury, and with All-America senior center Luka Garza only scoring a season-low eight points, nor did the Spartans have an answer on offense as they only shot 35.5 percent from the field.
Garza took an inadvertent elbow in the face late in the game, and it was a tough day for him on offense. But Iowa’s All-America senior center still cheered loudly from the bench as the reserves put the finishing touches on Saturday’s beat-down, and then celebrated with his teammates afterwards.
“What was really impressive to me was how happy Luka was in the locker room for his teammates and our victory,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “That says all you need to know about our leader.”
It was Michigan State’s most lopsided defeat at home in 26 years, and Iowa’s largest margin of victory at the Breslin Center.
Joe Wieskamp had another solid performance for Iowa, scoring 21 points after having scored 26 in the 79-66 victory over Rutgers this past Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Junior forward Jack Nunge also made a huge impact off the bench with 18 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, while junior guard Connor McCaffery scored 16 points.
“This week in practice everybody was locked in,” Nunge said. “We knew the task we had at hand. We knew it was going to be a tough, physical game. Today we came out and showed we were ready to play.”
It was strange enough watching Iowa dominate an Izzo-coached team, but to have it happen at the Breslin Center where Iowa rarely prevails took the strangeness to a whole new level.
Iowa had a 3-23 record at the Breslin Center heading into Saturday’s game.
“It’s something that’s tough to do,” Wieskamp said of winning at the Breslin Center. “They’re a really good team, especially at home. To come in here and win like that in that fashion feels really good for us.”
Iowa also has swept the season series against Michigan State, winning 84-78 on Feb. 2 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
And take nothing away from Iowa.
Michigan State certainly has less talent than usual, but Iowa exploited the difference in talent, by dominating the Spartans.
Michigan State is more athletic than Iowa up and down the roster, but Iowa has better basketball players, especially when it comes to shooting. In that case, it’s not even close.
Iowa made 13-of-25 shots from 3-point range and shot 49.2 percent from the field overall, while Michigan was a dismal 6-of-21 from 3-point range.
The game is so much easier to play, and to coach, when shots are falling, especially from 3-point range. Iowa had five players who made at least one 3-point basket in Saturday’s game.
Connor McCaffery, who is Fran McCaffery’s son, isn’t relied much for scoring, but without Fredrick, and with Garza struggling, Iowa needed more offense from Connor and he delivered.
Michigan State led 4-0, but Iowa probably could’ve spotted the Spartans a 10-point lead and still cruised to a win.
It was that much of a mismatch.
Michigan State played the second half without guard Rocket Watts for health and safety precautions, according to a Michigan State spokesperson.
That kind of medical announcement, obviously, is concerning during a global pandemic that already has impacted Michigan State’s season.
Iowa’s performance in the first half was arguably its best 20 minutes of basketball this season, on both ends of the floor.
Even without Fredrick, and with Garza only scoring six points, Iowa led by as many 21 points in the first half, and led 46-27 at the break.
Iowa outscored the Spartans 24-6 from 3-point range in the first half, and Iowa had 13-0 scoring in the first half, its 23rd run of 10-plus points this season.
The second half was more of the same as Michigan State never mounted a serious rally.
It was sort of like college basketball’s version of the Twilight Zone, how Iowa completely outclassed the Spartans at the Breslin Center.
In just two games, the narrative has certainly changed for Iowa, which had lost four of five games before defeating Rutgers and Michigan State in the past two games.
The team that couldn’t protect leads or finish strong is now back on track again with records of 15-6 overall and 9-5 in the Big Ten.
And now as a reward, Iowa will play at Wisconsin on Thursday.