It may not be adequate revenge for the Big Ten football championship game, but Iowa still served Sparty cold on Tuesday night.
The Hawkeyes scored the first points of the game, never relinquished the lead and handed top-ranked Michigan State its first loss of the season, 83-70, in front of a raucous Carver-Hawkeye crowd. Peter Jok tossed in 19 points, including consecutive three-pointers that pushed the margin to a game-high 19 right when Michigan State was threatening to make the game close, and his three steals helped Iowa discombobulate MSU's offensive flow.
Michigan State can point to Denzel Valentine's absence as a major factor in the loss, and it wouldn't be wrong, but it's worth pointing out that Iowa's counterpart best player, Jarrod Uthoff, didn't exactly feast in Valentine's absence. Uthoff spent most of the first half on the bench with two fouls, and that's when Iowa spent most of its time building the double-digit lead that Sparty couldn't crack for the last 26 minutes. Even in the second half, Uthoff was mostly cold from the field (and sloppy with the ball, committing eight of Iowa's 12 turnovers) and didn't register his first point after halftime until the 8:52 mark. It's one thing to be absent; it's arguably worse to be present and unproductive.
Fortunately for Iowa, Mike Gesell put together one of the best games of his career, routinely scorching Eron Harris and Tum Tum Nairn on his way to the rack—and finishing with an uncommon consistency. Gesell finished with 25 points, setting a career high (previously 23 vs. UNI as a freshman), and his clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch stymied MSU's Hack-A-Mike strategy and kept the Spartans at bay.
It's not that Iowa shot or rebounded exceptionally well (though the Hawkeyes shot 64% in the second half to maintain its lead) but Iowa took care of the ball better, and punished MSU's 16 turnovers to the tune of 21 points. Between that and the Hawkeyes' ability to get to the line, Iowa had enough to control the game for 40 minutes.
Let's also hail Nicholas Baer, who is rounding into fine form as the Hawkeyes' premier energy man off the bench. Baer's jumper wasn't doing him many favors, but he was relentless on defense and on the boards, and he created his own opportunities when he had to. He's not Aaron White 2.0—that's not fair to either player—but he's going to be a certifiable problem for plenty of future foes this season.
Adam Woodbury, when on the court, played within the flow of the offense extremely well and finished on his opportunities at the rim as capably as we've wished out of him for four years. Anthony Clemmons absolutely erased Bryn Forbes and his deadly perimeter shooting. Even Dom Uhl was an offensive force in the first half and helped keep Iowa's attack from grinding to a halt when Uthoff sat until halftime.
This is a great win, regardless of Valentine's status. There was nothing fluky about it: Iowa harassed and out-hustled the Spartans for the entire game and looked like a team who's ready for its spot in the Top 25. Moreover, Iowa didn't look like a team that might be able to weather the storm—Iowa looked like the storm itself.
Favored or not, when you whoop the #1 team's butt for 40 minutes, it's totally fine to rush the court. And it's totally fine to move your feet and feel united.
Go Iowa Awesome.