The Iowa Hawkeyes lost to Michigan State 59-56 Friday night in the Big Ten Conference Tournament semifinals. The Hawkeyes led by ten points at the half, and as many as 13 points early in the second half. With nine minutes left and Iowa nursing a ten-point lead, Roy Devyn Marble was called for a phantom offensive foul, a third personal that sent him to the bench. At the same time, point guard Mike Gesell was benched with an apparent foot injury. Anthony Clemmons and Josh Oglesby took over duties in the Iowa backcourt, and the wheels quickly came off. Iowa was outscored 22-9 from that point, shot 3/11 (27%) from the field, and committed four turnovers. Michigan State was 8/10 over the same stretch. That's the ballgame.
Fran McCaffery was infuriated by the officiating late in the game, particularly with the infamous Ted Valentine. McCaffery and Valentine have a history of antagonism (coincidentally, from last year's tournament semifinal against Michigan State), and Friday night did little to bury that hatchet. McCaffery was clearly trying to avoid a fine from the league during his postgame press conference. A Hawkeye Lounge commenter documented a postgame exchange between McCaffery and BTN analyst Jim Jackson:
We were sitting right by the tunnel that Iowa walked through. The BTN setup was right by the tunnel. After the game Fran ran up to Jimmy Jackson and screamed the following:
"Those last 8 minutes were fucking bullshit Jimmy. Fucking bullshit, and you know it."
Jimmy Jackson sat there shaking his head yes.
Bullshit or not -- and, yes, they were bullshit -- the bad officiating does not excuse some particularly odd late-game substitution patterns that only served to exacerbate the issues plaguing Iowa during another late-game meltdown. With Michigan State using Payne to pull Melsahn Basabe away from the basket and scoring at will in the interior -- Michigan State's standard plan of attack, and one that Iowa had effectively stopped with their array of shot-blockers through the first 30 minutes -- Iowa did not go to Adam Woodbury or Gabe Olaseni off the bench, preferring a small lineup wholly unequipped to stop what the Spartans were doing. Iowa needed to rely on its size and depth late in the game, and the Hawkeyes apparently got so hung up on the officiating that they didn't realize it.
Iowa finishes its season 21-12 with a 9-9 record in the nation's best conference. As of this morning, we cannot find anyone who thinks Iowa will get into the field of 68. Had Iowa's games finished with 45 seconds left on the clock, the Hawkeyes would be 25-8, with a 13-5 record in Big Ten play, sweeps of Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the #3 seed in the conference tournament. Twelve times this season, Iowa had a shot or free throw in the final minute of a game to tie or take the lead. The Hawkeyes made one of those shots -- Aaron White's three-point play at Wisconsin -- and then lost that game in double overtime. The Hawks never found a consistent outside shooter or a player who could regularly create his own shot and make it under pressure; on a team that took a massive step forward this year, that one small failure is why they will likely be in the NIT next week.