Fellow contributor and former high school coach Bartt Pierce would tell his team when he coached they’d need to be seven points better than normal to come away with road wins to account for all the variables associated the hostile environment.
The Iowa Hawkeyes (12-8, 4-5) got 10 to start the game and even that didn’t prove to be enough in a grueling battle with the Michigan State Spartans (14-7, 6-4) in a 63-61 loss at Breslin. Payton Sandfort had two threes go awry in the final 8 seconds which would have put Iowa ahead.
Ahron Ulis was the guy tonight, with a career-high 17 points including a jumper which gave Iowa its final lead on the night. Unfortunately his performance was not without warts as he had six turnovers and went 0/3 at the free throw line, including missing the front end of a one-and-one 1:50 remaining.
After Iowa’s 10-0 run to start, the game was played almost exclusively on the Spartans’ terms. Iowa had 13 turnovers with Michigan State capitalizing on them for 18 points. They also outscored the Hawks on the fastbreak 12-8 in a game defined by gnarly halfcourt offense. One of those transition buckets for MSU, though, was a big-time dunk from Malik Hall who returned from a foot injury to go for 11 points.
Kris Murray matched Hall in points but struggled with his efficiency as he went just 5/13 from the field and 0/5 from three. He seemed to be short on a number of his jumpers which is concerning considering it was just Iowa’s second game in 10 days. Not the time for his early season foot injury to eke its way back into his game. Worth noting: Murray didn’t seem disengaged or anything of that nature and added 8 rebounds, many of them contested.
With Murray’s offense lacking, Iowa turned to Filip Rebrača for a lot of halfcourt offense, as he finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
With Iowa’s shot absent for the evening (3/17 from deep), Ulis’ ability to get into the lane and fill it up was desperately needed. He and three other Iowa starters (Rebrača, Murray, & Connor McCaffery) went all 20 minutes of the second half. It was a lower pace game, which allowed it, even if the physicality felt like it would chip into them by the end of the game.
The only commentary I’ll add in that respect is go ahead and Heavens! feed. It was rough at times.
This was another one which slipped through Iowa’s fingers as they played an eminently beatable team on the road but I have to commend the grit they showed throughout it all. Eight of their 10 offensive rebounds came in the second half as they tried to generate offense anyway they could. Weaker Hawkeye teams would have allowed that Hall rim-rocker to be the start of a 20-point blowout.
But this team is past moral victories and will return home for another important stretch of games starting Sunday against a second-place Rutgers teams looking to get it their home loss to Iowa back. Northwestern remains in the top three of the conference and Illinois is always going to give Iowa hell with Underwood.