Coming into Saturday, the Iowa Hawkeyes were fighting out of a hole they dug over the prior two weeks. That hole included four losses in five games that dropped Iowa eleven spots in the AP poll, three seed lines in most brackets and effectively knocked them out of contention for their first Big Ten regular season title in a generation. What we saw from the Hawkeyes Saturday was a conscious effort to put the shovel down and start climbing out of the hole.
That effort truly began on Wednesday with a win over Rutgers, but the level of fight and intensity displayed in Saturday should show Hawkeye fans just what this team is made of.
Iowa came out a bit sloppy early and the anxiety levels hit the roof for Hawkeye fans knowing the brutal 3-8 record coming into the game when CJ Fredrick hasn’t played in both halves the last two seasons. But it took less than two minutes for that to totally disappear. Down 6-3, Keagan Murray drilled a three to draw the game even and the flood gates opened.
Michigan State would hit a free throw to go up 7-6 on their next possession, but that was the last lead they would hold all day. Iowa would go four of five from beyond the arc on their next six possessions and would never look back. The Hawkeyes would build their lead to seven before starting a 13-0 run over 4:30 in the middle of the first half to build to a 46-27 halftime lead.
Michigan State came out in the second half and tried to make a Spartan stand, but like the 300 every last Michigan State Spartan was vanquished as Iowa played with more defensive intensity and rebounding hustle than we’ve seen at any point during the last two weeks of pain.
Iowa lit the nets on fire, shooting well over 50% from beyond the arc for most of the game, building their lead to as much as 34 in the second half. But it was the defensive rotations and the rebounding effort that stood out in this one. The Hawkeyes created only 8 turnovers but came away with 4 steals and blocked 5 shots. They also held Michigan State to 58 points - the lowest of any opponent since Purdue was held to 55 nearly two months ago. On the glass, Iowa held a 46-37 edge over the Spartans and limited Michigan State to just 11 offensive boards.
On the offensive side of things, the absence of CJ Fredrick was largely mitigated by a tremendous shooting performance from Connor McCaffery. CMac finished with 16 points on 4 of 6 shooting from deep. That hot shooting was only topped by Joe Wieskamp, who finished with a game-high 21 points on 5 of 7 shooting from deep. Jack Nunge also had a tremendous game, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds while also leading the team with 6 assists in what was one of the best games he’s played at Iowa.
Nunge backdoor to CMac and Izzo with the quick hook lol pic.twitter.com/jJlnP48Q9i— Heavens! (@HeavensFX) February 13, 2021
- Luka Garza failed to reach double figures for the first time all season, finishing with just 8 points.
- With no CJ Fredrick and Jordan Bohannon going just 1 of 5 from deep, Iowa shot 52% from three. Good luck stopping that.
- Iowa held Michigan State to under 29% from deep and 36% from beyond the arc.
- Joe Wieskamp is now averaging 22 points a game over his last three. That level of contribution will make Iowa impossible to defend with a healthy Fredrick and average Garza.
- Michigan State’s Rocket Watts left the game and didn’t return in the second half “due to health and safety precautions”. No details on what that means, but in a COVID world, it certainly is cause for concern. It’s worth noting players are tested daily so I’m theory this should be nothing to worry about. In theory.
The win moves Iowa 15-6 overall and 9-5 in the conference. Heading into Sunday, Iowa sits 1.5 games behind Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State, which are in a three-way tie for first place.
The Hawkeyes are now off until next Thursday evening, when they travel to #21 Wisconsin. Iowa will need all the defensive intensity and effort we saw on Saturday to come out of Madison with their third straight win.