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Iowa held a second half lead against #1 Michigan State and won by double-digits. No, seriously. It happened.

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa exorcised some demons Tuesday night. Sure, Michigan State was without one of the best players in the country. But Iowa players didn't see it that way. They saw a powerhouse Michigan State team that this program hadn't beaten since 2011. They saw a Spartan team that these seniors had frequently outplayed in the first half over their careers, only to have everything blown to shreds after halftime. And they won by 13 points, with their star player -- also one of the best players in the country -- struggling to stay on the court, score, and hold onto the ball.

I'm fine with people outside of the program putting an asterisk next to this win. Iowa did not truly beat the team that earned that #1 ranking. However, even without Denzel Valentine, this Michigan State team still has enough pieces that it should probably be a top 25 team. They play tough defense with or without Valentine, and they have enough talent on offense that they can keep up with most teams. They are still in the early stages of playing without their star player on offense.

So, again, feel free to discount this win, but this was a win against a tough Michigan State team. This was a great win for Iowa's March resume.


Four Factors in Review

1st half

First Half Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.07, Michigan State 0.67

Possessions: 35

2nd half

Second Half Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.28, Michigan State 1.30

Possessions: 36

4 factors

Total Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.18, Michigan State 0.99

Total Possessions: 71


Iowa 2pt Near Rim 2pt Jumper 3Pt FG FT
Attempts 39.3% 37.5% 23.2% N/A
FG% 68.2% 28.6% 46.2% 74.2%
MSU 2pt Near Rim 2pt Jumper 3Pt FG FT
Attempts 43.8% 35.9% 20.3% N/A
FG% 78.6% 8.7% 23.1% 65.0%

As it seems to be quite often, this game was a tale of two halves. The first saw the Hawkeyes struggle to shoot the ball from inside the arc. They made 4 of their 9 first half three-point attempts, but a lot of what they attempted inside was contested well or flat-out rejected by Deyonta Davis. On top of that, Jarrod Uthoff picked up 2 early fouls and Fran pulled him for the remaining 14 minutes of the half. Of course, Fran didn't plan on having his star player only log 6 minutes in the first half, but Nicholas Baer and Dom Uhl gave Iowa 16 points of production on the bench and that made it unnecessary for Uthoff to return to the court and risk a third foul.

In the second half, Iowa's offensive attack changed and their points-per-minute skyrocketed. Mike Gesell frequently got to the rim and finished and/or drew contact, and Michigan State's defensive presence in the paint was no longer felt the way it was in the first half. That likely had something to do with Tom Izzo giving his best shot-blocker only 2 minutes of run in the second half.

Anyway, Iowa went from a 44% eFG% before halftime to a 68% eFG% afterward, and they needed it because Michigan State's offense was better in the second half.

The Spartans, like Iowa and Uthoff, also faced foul trouble early on. Eron Harris and Bryn Forbes both picked up 2 fouls in the first half, and Izzo sent both of them to the bench and ran out an offensive lineup that was complete garbage. Forbes still ended up with 14 minutes in the first half, but Harris only played 9 and he was the biggest loss for Michigan State in the first 20 minutes. With both players in foul trouble and Bryn Forbes on lockdown, thanks to Anthony Clemmons, Michigan State's offense managed just six points in the final 10 minutes of the first half. That's where this game was lost.

The second half was different, as Michigan State got the ball inside frequently to Matt Costello and Harris was more effective slashing to the basket and finishing in the paint. That being said, the Spartans still only managed an eFG% of 48% after halftime, and that's because Iowa blocked six second half shots. Add that to their five first half blocks, and you can see why Michigan State struggled to shoot the ball.

Advantage: Iowa


On top of Michigan State's shooting struggles, turnovers helped Iowa jump out to the lead the eventually carried them to victory. Some of it seemed to be Michigan State's offense looking pretty clunky at times as they adjusted to life without Denzel Valentine, but Iowa's defense played a big part in that. Michigan State turned it over 11 times in the first 20 minutes (just about one out of every three possessions), but seven of those were Iowa steals. On top of forcing all of those empty possessions, the Hawkeyes were able to score 12 points off them which helped extend the lead to double-digits before halftime.

The second half was a bit different, as Michigan State's offense looked better and Iowa made some bad decisions with the ball that were reminiscent of past second half collapses. That being said, Iowa's second half shooting and trips to the free throw line helped stave off any attempt at a Michigan State comeback.

Iowa may have had some turnover issues after halftime, but their win in the turnover column before that helped push them to victory.

Advantage: Iowa

Offensive Rebounding

Much like turnovers, this category was vastly different before and after the intermission. I fully expected Michigan State to dominate Iowa on the glass, and they did in the second half when they grabbed 56% of their misses and outscored Iowa 12-7 on second chance points. But the first, again, was what helped Iowa build the double-digit lead that they were able to sustain until the final whistle.

The first half rebounding performance for Iowa was extremely impressive, and somewhat fortunate to me. For the impressive portion, I thought Adam Woodbury did a great job of grabbing rebounds with intensity on both ends of the court, while Nicholas Baer also played a big role off the bench. In the fortunate category, Iowa had five team rebounds in the first half, which are when the ball goes out of bounds off a shot attempt. So, yes, everything seemed to be breaking Iowa's way on the night. The banked three-point shot, the bounces of the ball out of bounds and into the hoop, etc. But it's always great to be good and fortunate, and Iowa was in the first half. We saw what Michigan State did in the second half on the boards, so keeping them off the offensive glass in the first half also helped build that crucial first half lead.

Michigan State won this category due to their second half performance, but it wasn't enough in the grand scheme of things to overcome their first half performance.

Advantage: Michigan State

Free Throw Rate

Talk about going against tendency. The Hawkeyes have not put an emphasis on getting to the free throw line this season, but they pretty much lived there on Tuesday night. Now, I have to say that I wasn't always impressed with the referees and their whistles. There were a lot of fouls that I didn't think were fouls, and then there were times where I couldn't believe they didn't blow the whistle. But, whatever. Both teams had to deal with early foul trouble to key players: Harris and Forbes for Michigan State, and Uthoff and Woodbury for Iowa.

Overall, Mike Gesell's aggressiveness helped Iowa in this category. Not only did he convert on just about everything at the rim in the second half, but his 13 free throw attempts helped Iowa maintain that lead. His last 4 free throws were due to Michigan State intentionally fouling at the end of the game, but he earned the other 9. And the Hawkeyes needed all 11 of his made free throws in this one.

Advantage: Iowa

Overall: Iowa Won 3 of 4 Factors



Before we talk about Iowa, I just want to point out the oddity of Michigan State's adjusted game score chart. That is the most bipolar thing I have seen in my life. They had five players that were great last night, and then everybody else was terrible. They had two guys above an adjusted game score of 1.00, five above 0.80, and 6 in the negatives.

Now, Iowa. I'm sure we all want to talk Mike Gesell and Nicholas Baer, and we will. But first, let's give a shout out to Anthony Clemmons. Defense doesn't always show up on the chart in the ways that offense does, which means Sapp's performance is not fully captured above. And he deserves some recognition for last night. I mean, Tom Izzo went out of his way to praise him last night, and we should too:

Seriously, Sapp made Bryn Forbes -- potentially the best shooter out of anyone on the court that night -- damn near invisible. Michigan State's game plan with Forbes is to run him off of screens and get him open looks from distance. Anthony Clemmons fought through every single screen and made Forbes' life a living hell. Ken Pomeroy has mentioned that the best three-point defense is to keep the other team from shooting them, and that is what Clemmons did. Forbes managed a total of 5 field goal attempts on the night, and just 3 tries from downtown. I mentioned in the preview that Forbes was the guy with the potential to go all Travis Trice on Iowa, but Anthony Clemmons was not having that. So, here's to you, Clemmons. May your defense continue to stifle every other shooter on Iowa's schedule for the remainder of the season.

As for offense, the first half was the Nicholas Baer show, while the second half was ceded to Mike Gesell. The former scored 9 of his 11 total points in the first half. He knocked down a three, earned a trip to the line, threw down Iowa's only dunk, came up with a steal, and also threw in a blocked shot. He did it all, and made it so Jarrod Uthoff's presence on the bench did not cripple Iowa's offensive attack.

Gesell, on the other hand, scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half. This was the Mike Gesell I think we've all dreamed of over his four year career. He didn't settle for too many jumpers, but he got aggressive and attacked the basket possession after possession. On the night, he made 6 of his 7 field goal attempts near the rim, and also earned 13 free throw attempts. Out of his 25 points, 12 were scored in the paint and 11 were scored from the charity stripe. I would call that a successful night.

Not to be overlooked, however, was the play of Peter Jok. With Uthoff having an off night, Iowa needed production from it's other big scorer and Jok obliged. He scored 19 points on 5-12 shooting, but more importantly, he was 3-5 from long range. On a night when Iowa only attempted 13 threes and made six, Jok contributed half of them. He also threw in four ssists and three steals on top of that.

After those guys, Jarrod Uthoff only shot 4-11 from the field, but still managed 10 points and 6 blocks. He did have 8 turnovers, though, which is highly uncharacteristic of him. Adam Woodbury made some nice post moves, was a willing recipient in the pick and roll game, and grabbed some key first half rebounds. He was also a defensive presence because Matt Costello started going to work in the post in the second half when Woodbury went to the bench with his third foul. Iowa ended up using a lot of zone when Woodbury left because Dom Uhl and Matt Costello was not a good match up for Iowa, even with the frequent double teams Iowa was bringing.

Next up, Iowa faces a Purdue team that is pretty loaded in the post. Michigan State showed us just how vulnerable Iowa is to skilled big men when Adam Woodbury isn't in the game, and this match up worries me. Woodbury is going to need to stay out of foul trouble because Uhl on A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas, and maybe even Caleb Swanigan isn't a great match up. I would expect Iowa to double everything in the post in man-to-man, and to also throw in a lot of zone defense.

Michigan State was a good win, but Iowa has the chance to pick up a great one on the road this Saturday. Let's hope they can do it.