By Adam Jacobi on February 25, 2020 at 9:38 pm
Luka Garza drive
© Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

For 10, 20, even 30+ minutes, fate was kissing the Hawkeyes on the forehead and making sweet promises. Then the Hawkeyes blinked, and in East Lansing, you really don't want to do that.

#18 Iowa led by as many as 10 points early in the second half and led as late as 4:38 in the game, but ultimately withered at the Breslin Center as #24 Michigan State prevailed, 78-70. Luka Garza, obviously, led the Hawkeyes with 20 points, and Ryan Kriener added 18 in a spirited performance.

Iowa was without guard CJ Fredrick as he continues to work back from a right ankle injury, and his absence was sorely missed. The Hawkeyes shot a lackluster 6-for-27 from distance, and without a jumper on the floor to space the Sparty defenders, MSU could swarm the interior at will. Garza kept his 20-point streak alive, but he shot just 8-for-21, usually with two or more very large defenders near him (this is Michigan State we're talking about).

Iowa was also without Wiezy in a game he was needed desperately. Oh, Joe Wieskamp was in uniform and played 34 minutes, mind you. But he was nowhere near the high-level performer we've gotten used to seeing in action, and we wish it only manifested itself in Wieskamp's dismal shooting (1-8, 0-5, and his stroke looked horrid). He was timid on drives, finished with no assists, and was frequently a step late on defense. He was on the floor, but hardly himself.

And that's where missing someone like Fredrick really matters. Credit to Bakari Evelyn for 27 hard-earned minutes off the bench, but Fredrick's a far more likely candidate to help carry the offense in extended time, especially for how he works off the ball. Everyone (even Wieskamp and Garza) is liable to have an off night here or there. But if you want to win at Michigan State, you need as many players having good nights on the floor as possible.

And hey: Sparty earned the win. The foul disparity down the stretch wasn't great, but A) there's no rule that says both teams have to be whistled a similar amount of times, and B) this is Tom Izzo's kitchen, are you new here or what, the home cooking is always on here. If Garza's trying to squeeze through a double team in the paint so he can throw the ball at the rim, his pregame scouting (and the previous 30+ minutes of gameplay) should tell him the bailout whistle isn't coming unless one of those defenders is out of position. And down the stretch, they weren't. Combine that with Garzilla being gassed down the stretch—he played over 39 minutes, all at top effort—and there was no "there" left.

Let's also give credit to Cassius Winston for scoring 19 of his 20 points after halftime, including four consecutive three-pointers to bring Sparty back in the game early in the second half. Rocket Watts was a maniacal scorer when given half an opportunity, as a man with his name ought to be at all times; he led all players with 21 tonight. 

Life lesson learned: it's not gonna end well when they've got a Rocket Watts and you don't.

This loss shouldn't diminish Iowa's standing in anything except the hunt for the Big Ten title, and that dream was already in the driveway with the engine running. A #18 team and projected 6-seed in the NCAA tournament, losing by 8 at Michigan State (and much closer/leading for most of the game)... that sounds about right, doesn't it? There's 31 games in the regular season. The pollsters don't have to overreact to this one loss, neither do the (sigh) bracketologists, and nor do we. 

Fair play to Sparty, onto Penn State this Saturday, and GO IOWA AWESOME.

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