Saturday, July 24, 2021

MSU men's basketball loss to Iowa teeters between miracle and moral victory

February 3, 2021
<p>Sophomore guard Rocket Watts (right) drives on Iowa forward Ryan Kriener (left). The Spartans defeated the Hawkeyes, 78-70, at the Breslin Student Events Center on Feb. 25, 2020. </p>

Sophomore guard Rocket Watts (right) drives on Iowa forward Ryan Kriener (left). The Spartans defeated the Hawkeyes, 78-70, at the Breslin Student Events Center on Feb. 25, 2020.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

Michigan State men’s basketball needed a miracle to reignite hope into their season. A team crumbling at the seams headed to Iowa for a game that many fans brushed away as an immediate blowout, comparing Iowa’s offensive production to Michigan State’s lack thereof. 

The Spartans didn’t get the win they may have needed, one that would have put a tally on the left side of their now 2-7 conference record, but a miracle, now that wasn’t too far off.

MSU fell 84-78 in Iowa City in a hard-fought battle that shuffled down to the final minute. The Spartans entered the game on a three-game losing streak, including a 67-37 loss to Rutgers that posed their lowest scoring in years, yet at Iowa, you may have never guessed that. 

MSU passed that 37 point mark in the first 15 minutes of their match in Iowa City.

They started the game shooting 6-for-6 from the three, with five different players contributing to that streak.

It looked like MSU was going to edge out a corner that was almost falling out of reach, but Head Coach Tom Izzo saw it otherwise.

“I really thought we were going to win the game, isn’t that weird?" Izzo said post-game. "I said it today, I told people we were going to win this game, I told my team we were going to win this game. Is it a turning point? No, it’s not a turning point."

"It’s not a moral victory,” Izzo said.

It still puts MSU in the worst position they have been in during Big Ten play under Izzo’s tenure. But there were some silver linings. 

MSU’s 41.4% accuracy from behind the arc goes well above their season average of 33.4%. The Spartans 12 three's equal the amount of shots MSU made from the perimeter in their last three matchups combined.

The Spartans had more confidence on the offensive side, putting up 70 shots that tie their season-high in conference play, which came against Minnesota. Twenty-eight of those shots fell, the second most for the Spartans in Big Ten play behind their performance at Nebraska.

Twenty offensive rebounds marked a season-high for MSU and promised to keep them alive with their 28 second-chance points. 

Even more, a team that has been defined by sloppy turnovers, held themselves to just eight.

There was grit in the Spartans' play. There was an energy that just weeks ago even the players themselves said was lacking.

“I’ve been so soft on my team because it’s been so difficult, but tonight I said I’m taking the gloves off too," Izzo said. "We’re not playing with the tenacity that Spartans play with. ... I had a good friend of mine tell me ‘Why are you coaching them with kid gloves,’ I said, ‘Because I don’t know what they can take.’ So the kid gloves came off a little bit."

And when the gloves came off, the leadership rolled in. Izzo said guys like Aaron Henry, who scored 24 points and Rocket Watts stepped up in the huddle to challenge themselves and their teammates.

It was a performance that may not be marked in their season record, but one Izzo thinks could have changed some past outcomes had this play come sooner.

“Put it this way, if we would’ve played this good we would’ve won a lot of games," Izzo said. “We got to win games, get better and somebody better hope we don’t get on a little streak.”

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