Hi, I'm recapper Troy McClure! You might remember me from such Iowa blowout losses as Texas 71, Iowa 57 and Iowa State 90, Iowa 75! For the next 800 words, I'll be recapping what it's like to watch a basketball team bleed out on a gym floor...
At this point the only thing we have left is black comedy; Iowa's second half struggles have become a sick cosmic joke. Thursday night's loss to Michigan State -- Iowa's 9th in a row against the Spartans -- went according to a script we've all seen many, many, many times before. Iowa got off to a sluggish start but roared back behind fierce defense, good ball movement on offense, and repeated trips to the free throw line. They took a 39-28 lead into halftime, giving Iowa fans the cruelest emotion of all: hope. Could this be the game where Iowa ended the Spartans' hex over the Hawkeyes? Could this finally be the game when Fran got one up on Izzo?
Because you still have to play a second half and second halves are where good things go to die for Iowa basketball. Good things like leads, solid defense, and competent offense. Even by Iowa's standards, though, this was an impressively wretched second half.
MSU in the second half at Iowa: 1.68 PPP, 84% eFG%, 7-7 on threes. Hot shooting or not, pathetic showing by Iowa.— Dylan Burkhardt (@umhoops) January 9, 2015
That tweet came before the end of the second half and Michigan State's torrid shooting cooled off slightly in the game's garbage minutes, so it's not a 100% accurate description of the second half... but it's close enough. 84% eFG%! EIGHTY-FOUR PERCENT.
The vast majority of Michigan State's offensive damage came from long range; they shot 50.9% from the floor (27/53), but just 42% (15/36) from 2-point range. They were a preposterous 70.6% (12/17) from 3-point range, though, and that includes a few late misses. Travis Trice went 7/8 from deep, only launching a miss after the game had long since been decided. Michigan State entered the game as a very good three-point shooting team, but not, y'know, THAT good. No one is that good. Except when they are, which has been against Iowa too often in the last few years. Because this loss was the Texas game all over again, it was the Iowa State game all over again, it was the Minnesota and Indiana games from a year ago all over. A few of the shots were preposterously good -- drained long jumpers off one leg with an Iowa defender's hand in the shooter's face -- but too many were wide open looks, the result of smart ball movement from the Spartans and calamitous defending from Iowa.
As big of a problem as the defense was -- and it was an enormous, flashing lights and blaring klaxons problem tonight -- the inability of the offense to help out might be even more maddening when opponents go one these flamethrowing runs that turn leads into deficits and wins into losses. Tonight, the offense fell into its old bad habits in the second half -- poor ball movement, quick shots, and way too many fucking jump shots. We've seen this script before so often we can recite it by memory now.
Gabe Olaseni had a tremendous first half (15 points), and finished with a team-high 18 points, but he was mostly a non-factor in the second half. Aaron White was rendered almost invisible by the Spartans -- he had just 8 points (on four field goal attempts) and 4 rebounds. Jarrod Uthoff wasn't afraid to take shots tonight -- he launched 16 attempts -- but he made few of them (just six) and many of them were low percentage shots. He and White were so rattled in the second half that they missed five free throws.
On paper, Iowa's guard play doesn't look too bad -- Mike Gesell had 10 points on 5/8 shooting to go with 3 assists and a rebound; Peter Jok had 8 points on 3/8 shooting to go with 2 rebounds and 2 assists -- but they were almost completely ineffectual during Michigan State's second half blitzkrieg. Iowa's bench was anemic outside of Gabe's big night -- Anthony Clemmons, Josh Oglesby, and Dom Uhl combined for 0 points and 4 rebounds.
But everything comes back to the second half performance. Iowa showed encouraging signs of turning around those trademark second half swoons against Ohio State last week, but this game was back to bad old business as usual. When the Spartans went on their run, Iowa panicked and lost their composure -- and the game. A team loaded with three- and four-year starters ought to be mentally tough. This team isn't. Until that changes, we're going to see this script play out again and again. That's basketball.