By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Michigan State had just scored 11 consecutive points when Fran McCaffery called a timeout with 13 minutes and 40 seconds left in the second half of Thursday's game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa’s ninth-year head coach then had an animated discussion with his players during the timeout. McCaffery punched a clipboard and punched the air several times as he lit into his players.
Unfortunately, for the near-capacity crowd that withstood the bone-chilling weather on Thursday, McCaffery’s spirited pep talk wasn’t enough as the sixth-ranked Spartans stayed undefeated in Big Ten play with a 82-67 victory.
Junior forward Tyler Cook made a basket to give Iowa a 50-42 lead with 16:05 left to play, but Michigan State responded with a 24-2 scoring run that all but sealed the victory.
Michigan State improved its record to 18-2 overall and 9-0 in the Big Ten, while Iowa fell to 16-4 and 5-4.
Some will say that the Spartans benefited from the officials allowing them to be too physical on defense, but that seems more like an excuse, especially since Iowa lost by 15 points. It just seems weak to use the officials as a scape goat.
You can be upset with the officials, but to say the cost Iowa the game isn't fair to Michigan State..
Michigan State has won 21 consecutive Big Ten regular-season games and also completed a season sweep against Iowa. The Spartans won the first game 90-68 on Dec. 3rd in East Lansing, Mich.
Iowa was trying to extend a five-game winning streak, and showed signs of doing it with an eight-point lead in the second half.
But Michigan State is one of the premier programs in the country for lots of reasons and that was apparent in the second half as the Spartans dismantled a red-hot Iowa team on the road.
Fans started heading for the exits in mass with 3:48 remaining and with Iowa trailing 77-61. An arena that just a few minutes earlier had been rocking was quiet and emptying out in a hurry.
Iowa had a chance to earn a signature win, but the Spartans had other plans as they usually do under veteran coach Tom Izzo. They withstood the crowd and whatever Iowa threw at them and that’s a sign of a Big Ten champion.
Iowa made all eight of its free-throw attempts in Thursday's game, but it was the number of attempts that Iowa had that was the story afterwards because the Hawkeyes average nearly 30 free-throw attempts per game.
Michigan State also plays a physical style of defense, and yet, Iowa still struggled to get to the free throw line, while the Spartans attempted 21 free throws..
"We only shoot eight tonight, that says a lot," said Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon, who didn't shoot any free throws."Fouls just weren't being called tonight. They shoot 21 and we shoot eight. So we just didn't get the whistle tonight."
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery clearly seemed frustrated with the officiating, but he avoided saying anything critical to avoid a fine. His post-game press conference didn't even last four minutes.
"Our game plan was to throw the ball inside and we did, many times," McCaffery said. "Threw it in there a lot."
Regardless how you felt about the officials, they weren't responsble for Iowa only making 5-of-24 3-point field goals. Bohannon, junior Isaiah Moss and frreshman Joe Wieskmap combined to make just 2-of-14 treys.
And some of the misses come on uncontested shots.
"They've been making them and they were open," McCaffery said. "So that's unfortunate. They're good kids. Tell them to just keep firing.".
The good news is that Iowa still has 11 conference games remaining, with its next game Sunday at Minnesota.
There still is plenty of time and opportunities for Iowa to make something special out of the season. The players just have to move on and put this loss behind them.
The Hawkeyes forced Michigan State into a shot clock violation on its first possession of the game and that caused Tom Izzo to remove star forward Nick Ward from the game.
Izzo then lit into Ward briefly before inserting him back into the game.
The Spartans responded immediately with a 9-0 scoring run that started with Ward finally scoring Michigan State’s first points of the game on a jumper near the free throw line with 16:25 left in the first half.
Removing a star player just seconds into a game is vintage Izzo in that no player is bigger than the team. Izzo saw something that he didn’t like with Ward and he dealt with it right away.
Wieskamp made his only 3-point basket in the game to cut the lead to 9-7 with 14:20 left in the first half.
The Spartans twice led by six points in the first half, but then Iowa built its own six-point lead at 35-29, thanks back-to-back 3-pointers by Bohannon and Baer.
Cassius Winston made two free throws with 38.2 seconds left to cut the deficit to 35-31 at the break.
Iowa then started the second half by feeding Tyler Cook in the low post where he made a left-handed jump hook.
Sophomore center Luka Garza then drove baseline for a basket that expanded Iowa’s lead to 39-31, and by that point, Carver-Hawkeye Arena was rocking.
That was also about the point where Cook started to dominate in the post, much to the dismay of Izzo, who ripped his team's defensive effort against Cook.
The Spartans eventually adjusted and then held Cook in check down the stretch.
"We did something that you've got to do in basketball, we tried to guard him," izzo said when asked what adjustments his team.made against the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Cook. "It was a joke. I mean my God I could have scored in there. And I'm serious. I really could have."
Izzo was probably exaggerating, but his point came across loud and clear.
Part of being an elite team is making adjustments and that's what the Spartans did in the second half.
Winston led all scorers with 23 points and also had seven assists.
Garza led Iowa with 20 points, while Cook and Nicholas Baer finished with 17 and 10 points, respectively.
Iowa fans were clearly upset and frustrated with the offcials after the game based on what was being said on social media.
But to blame the loss solely on the officlals is a convenient excuse for Iowa failing to win a key conference game at home. The game was there for the taking, but the Spartans took it away from Iowa more than the officials did.