No jinx, just fortitude in MSU dominance over Iowa
Spartans have won last 17 at Breslin, 7 overall against the Hawkeyes
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Bill Clinton was just eight days into his first presidential term the last time Iowa won at Michigan State.
That was 21 years ago when the emotion-filled Hawkeyes rallied from a 15-point deficit in the final three minutes to force overtime and ultimately prevail. But since that night, the Breslin Center has become a house of horrors, and Michigan State has become a nemesis for Iowa.
The No. 25 Hawkeyes (20-9, 9-7 Big Ten) have lost 17 straight games in East Lansing and few have been close. Iowa's average margin of defeat: 15.3 points. Three of the margins have exceeded 30 points and only two of the last 13 were by single digits. Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo is 15-0 at home against Iowa.
"I do find that hard to believe," Izzo said. "You probably jinxed me, but I do find that hard to believe."
None of Iowa's current players were older than 14 months when the Hawkeyes last won in East Lansing. But that type of history doesn't faze them. Their motivation is recent, and it has less to do with the Breslin Center than with the No. 22 Spartans (22-9, 11-5 Big Ten) themselves.
Iowa has dropped its last seven to Michigan State, and all have left a mark. Michigan State has eliminated Iowa from the last three Big Ten tournaments. Last year's excruciating 59-56 loss in Chicago prevented Iowa from reaching the NCAA tournament.
The regular-season losses sting nearly as bad. In early 2013 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the Hawkeyes led by 12 midway through first half without star guard Devyn Marble. But Iowa fumbled away a three-point lead inside of two minutes and instead lost by three.
In January, the Hawkeyes held the last shot in regulation but missed. They lost in overtime by two at home.
"The last three times weíve played them weíve been up," Iowa senior Melsahn Basabe. "Itís not that that team is that much better than us or that weíre not capable of beating them. But at the end, it seems like they want it more, and I take that personally. We need to realize that. Itís going to be a close game. No one ever blows each other out. Itís going to come down to the wire. Itís going to be the same story unless we step up."
There are obvious reasons why Iowa has struggled against the Spartans. Michigan State is an elite national program. Since taking over in 1995, Izzo has taken the Spartans to six Final Four appearances, a record among Big Ten coaches. Over the same span, Iowa has competed in just one Sweet Sixteen. Izzo has sent 11 players to the NBA and won seven Big Ten regular-season crowns. Iowa has employed four coaches, hasn't qualified for the NCAA tournament since 2006 and hasn't won an NCAA tourney game since 2001.
"When youíre going through coaching changes, when youíre going through two, three coaches in a short period of time, that lends to problems," Izzo said. "I would say that itís all just not the players at Iowa and the players at Michigan State; itís the situations that weíve gone through."
There also are intangibles. After Iowa's 71-69 overtime loss in January, Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery openly questioned his team's toughness. He did the same thing two years ago when he infamously slammed a chair on the Breslin Center court in the second half of a 95-61 Michigan State pounding.
Michigan State prides itself on toughness, both physical and mental, and the results show it.
"Itís probably most important because thatís what they hang their hats on," White said. "Their mindset, just like Purdue, is every time they take the floor theyíre the tougher team, the more physical team, and thatís how they win basketball games. For us, we have to match that, play smart, stick to your game plan and you canít let the physical play or not getting a call on the road affect you. Youíve got to play through it. That next play mindset.
"Just because we havenít beaten them yet doesnít mean thereís a jinx or something we have to get over to beat them. I just think we put ourselves in position to beat them and we havenít closed the deal."
Both teams have struggled recently. The Hawkeyes ended a three-game slide before beating Purdue at home Sunday. Michigan State has lost five of its last eight and failed to score 50 points in a home loss Saturday to Illinois.
But it's Michigan State's senior night, and the injury-plagued Spartans should have everyone available. That makes Iowa's challenge that much more difficult.
"Itís a team that weíve struggled with a lot in the past," Marble said. "Iím tired of losing to them. Theyíre going to definitely come in with a lot of intensity and energy. We have to be able to match that and exceed it."
"It seems like they have that extra push that we donít bring to the game and this is why we donít come out victorious," Basabe said. "I think we need to bring that push. Weíre very capable of it."
The teams play at 8 p.m. Thursday on ESPN.