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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State came for the show. Iowa came for the fight.
If Thursday night’s Big Ten basketball game at the Breslin Center was a boxing match, it would have ended by technical knockout. No. 19 Iowa was tougher and better in every area than No. 4-ranked Michigan State in a stunning and decisive 76-59 win.
“We knew what they were going to do, what they wanted to do,” said Iowa senior Anthony Clemmons, who grew up in Lansing. “They wanted to come out and be the aggressor, and I think we came out and threw the first punch.”
It was a shocking and one-sided display of grit and intensity by the Hawkeyes, who historically were tormented by the Spartans. Iowa had lost 18 consecutive games at East Lansing, including the last 14 by an average of 19 points. But the past had nothing on the present for the Hawkeyes. Any emotional scarring from a nine-game losing streak to the Spartans that ended two weeks ago in an 83-70 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena — or a generation of Breslin nightmares — were gone by the opening tip. Simply, Iowa took the fight to Michigan State and never relented.
“We knew we were the better team from the get-go,” Iowa senior forward Jarrod Uthoff said. “We wanted to go out and prove it.
“They fought us as hard as they could. I think they gave us their best fight. Both times, you can’t say they didn’t fight us because they came out and wanted to punch us in the face.”
Even Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo noticed a change in this year’s Hawkeyes from the past. On one possession alone, the Hawkeyes grabbed five offensive rebounds.
“I told (Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery) after the game, I thought for years that he’s tough, but I didn’t think his teams were as tough, personally,” Izzo said. “I just think they played harder. They made shots, but they got every loose ball.”
Iowa (13-3, 4-0 Big Ten) was locked in defensively in the first half. The Hawkeyes held Michigan State (16-2, 3-2) to two points over a span lasting 7 minutes, 3 seconds. Iowa knocked down three 3-pointers during a 13-2 run that pushed its lead to 30-15. Michigan State tried to claw back, but Iowa continued its perimeter barrage with consecutive 3-pointers from sophomore Dominique Uhl and Clemmons to go up 18. The Hawkeyes then closed out the first half on an 8-1 run and led 47-25 at the break.
Iowa’s dominance was reflected in every statistical area. The Hawkeyes forced 14 Michigan State turnovers — including seven steals — which led to 17 points. The Spartans didn’t score on any of Iowa’s eight turnovers. Iowa out-rebounded the Spartans 19-12 and drilled 9 of 15 3-pointers. The Spartans hit just two. Junior guard Peter Jok had 19 points and Uhl added 10 by halftime.
“We had a lot of open looks and that started on the defensive end,” Uthoff said. “We really locked them up, we got into their space and made them uncomfortable, pushed it in transition and we got a couple of 3s in transition and kept them scrambled when we were on offense.”
“I think we knew and understood what it was going to take to play well here and to win here,” McCaffery said. “There has to be a consistency of effort and execution, concentration. The stuff that coaches say all the time. But, you let down at all, they’re gonna score. They’re gonna get an offensive rebound. They’re gonna score in transition. And to be able to come in here and out-rebound them, I think, is big.”
The Hawkeyes finished with a 39-35 rebounding edge over the Spartans, who were No. 1 nationally in rebounding margin.
Clemmons was forced to run the point for nearly 15 minutes in the first half when starting point guard Mike Gesell — the Big Ten’s reigning player of the week — picked up two quick fouls. Clemmons scored eight points in the half himself and kept the offense running smooth.
Jok finished with a game-high 23 points, hitting 8 of 13 shots. Uthoff, the league’s leading scorer, scored 15 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked two shots. Gesell played all but two minutes of the second half and scored eight points with six assists.
Michigan State star guard Denzel Valentine — a high school teammate and friend of Clemmons — returned to the starting lineup for the first time since knee surgery last month. He ended with 15 points and nine rebounds but committed three turnovers.
The victory pushes the Hawkeyes to their first 4-0 start in Big Ten play since the 1998-99 season. Three of Iowa’s four league wins have come against ranked opponents and two were at places where they’d lost a combined 25 straight games. But to sweep the Spartans for the first time since 1993 shows the Hawkeyes are in contention for their first Big Ten regular-season title since 1979.
“They’re one of the best teams in the Big Ten, ranked fourth,” Uthoff said. “We beat them at home when they were ranked first.
“We’re looking to win the Big Ten. You’ve got to sweep Michigan State if you want to win the Big Ten.”
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