IOWA CITY — There was no whiff of condescension from Michigan State coach Tom Izzo following his team’s 62-59 win against Iowa on Thursday.
Like protege Indiana Coach Tom Crean, whose team beat Iowa on Dec. 31, Izzo rhetorically tipped his cap to Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. Izzo said Iowa “played hard,” and McCaffery has “done a great job” and added the trifecta of respect with “I feel fortunate to come out with a win.” Izzo’s remarks echoed those made by Crean after Indiana survived a four-point victory in Iowa City.
Two Big Ten home games against ranked opponents. Two losses by a combined seven points. It’s the Big Ten equivalent of a door prize, the sportsmanship award. In other words, “Thanks for playing.”
But Iowa’s players and coaches are worn out with parting gifts. No longer does the program enjoy the rebuilding label. The construction project is over. It’s time to win.
“Coming into a game like this, where we play with them, you can’t even say we hanged tough with them or anything like because we came into the game expecting to win,” Iowa sophomore Aaron White said. “So it’s frustrating to not make the plays down the stretch to win the game because we were definitely, in my opinion, we should have won the game.”
But there were countless miscues and mistakes against the No. 22 Spartans. There were 18 turnovers, four apiece by freshman point guards Anthony Clemmons and Mike Gesell. Many of which occurred in pivotal moments, like Gesell’s sloppy pass during a tie game that led to a breakaway dunk with 48 seconds left.
There were four turnovers during a 10-0 first-half Michigan State run. There was a missed dunk by Eric May in a scoreless streak lasting 6 minutes, 43 seconds. In the final 1:34, Iowa missed four free throws. Late in the shot clock with a three-point lead, White fouled Michigan State’s Gary Harris on a 3-point attempt.
“Didn’t play with any toughness,” McCaffery said. “No, did not. And that’s disappointing. Offensively we played with no toughness whatsoever. Defensively, we did. On the glass, we did. But you have the other end of the floor, OK? Can’t turn the ball over 18 times.”
Iowa (11-5, 0-3 Big Ten) now enters a different phase to its Big Ten schedule. After battling three rated foes to start league play, only one of Iowa’s next five opponents (Ohio State) is ranked. But three of the Hawkeyes’ next four games are on the road, and the team has dropped both games at true road venues.
That’s one reason why Thursday’s loss stings so badly.
“There’s a sense of frustration,” Iowa forward Zach McCabe said. “But we definitely can learn from this and we’re going to come back a better team.”
1. Marble was sorely missed. Junior guard Devyn Marble suffered a sprained right ankle and toe earlier in the week and missed his first game after making 42 consecutive starts. Not only is Marble the team’s leading scorer at 15.5 points per game, he can break down the defense like no other Iowa player.
“You look at Dev, he makes a lot of plays, he gets in the lane, he’s our leading scorer, he creates shots, not only for himself but for other players,” White said. “But I don’t think you can look back at this game and think, ‘Oh, this is a game that Dev didn’t play so this is a game so that’s why we lost.’”
Marble has improved defensively this year and plays all three guard positions. When the offense bogs down, Marble often runs the point and gets his teammates involved. He ranked fifth in the Big Ten last year in assist-to-turnover ratio. His status for Sunday’s game at Northwestern is “iffy,” according to McCaffery.
Iowa junior Melsahn Basabe said the team felt it needed to compensate offensively in Marble’s absence.
“That’s kind of obvious considering he was our leading scorer,” Basabe said.
2. Iowa lacks discipline on offense. This is where the inexperience at point guard shows up. Yes there were turnovers, but beyond that, Iowa struggled to get into its sets and find players, whether it was in a specific play or running motion.
“It was tough offensively to get the kind of rhythm we needed,” McCaffery said. “You know, they’re a very physical team defensively, and you need a guy who can break his man down and get to the rim and get to the free‑throw line. Of course, I don’t know if anybody would have gotten to the free‑throw line that much (Thursday), apparently.”
Michigan State plays a tough, man-to-man defense. All week Iowa prepared against it, and the players knew the Spartans like to create turnovers and score on breakaways. Yet with 18 turnovers and sloppy possessions when Iowa was up 12 in the first half, the offense showed it has a way to go.
“It’s really not about the coaches, it’s about the do we want it or are we going to do what it takes to to hold on to a lead?” Basabe said.
3 (a). Post play needs to be more physical. We all know Adam Woodbury has talent, but so does Michigan State’s Adreian Payne. So does just about every center in the Big Ten. Woodbury played only 12 minutes and had as many turnovers (three) as rebounds. He relies on a turnaround jump hook that is effective at times, but he needed to force fouls on Payne and Derrick Nix and get to the free-throw line. Instead the Spartans weren’t called for a foul nearly 12 minutes into the game.
It wasn’t just Woodbury; sophomore center Gabe Olaseni played tentative in six minutes of action. They combined for five minutes of action in the second half as Iowa finished with veterans McCabe, Basabe and White in the post. This was a game where Iowa’s youth and inexperience were magnified.
3 (b). Perimeter shooting is a major concern. In three Big Ten games, Iowa has knocked down only 14 of 53 3-point attempts in Big Ten play and 30.8 percent overall. Iowa already has a game where it missed all 17 3-point attempts. Sophomore Josh Oglesby has struggled from 3-point range this year, shooting just 19 3-pointers in 16 games and 2-of-12 in Big Ten play.
Twice in its home Big Ten games, Iowa took a 3-point attempt with a chance to tie in the final seconds and whiffed both times.