EAST LANSING, Mich. — Double-teaming Luka Garza has seldom slowed Iowa’s All-America candidate, but it’s a great strategy when one of your defenders is Xavier Tillman.
Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo ran about every big body from his state’s Lower Peninsula at Iowa center Garza in the first half because 6-foot-8 junior Tillman missed 15 minutes because of two early fouls. But Tillman and his helpers stopped Garza from scoring in the game’s last 7:05, and “held” him to a 20-point game.
That, and the second-half resurrection of Spartan senior guard Cassius Winston combined to give 24th-ranked Michigan State a hard-fought and intense 78-70 victory over No. 18 Iowa in a loud Breslin Center. The Hawkeyes slipped to 19-9 overall, 10-7 in the Big Ten. MSU is 19-9 and 11-6.
“I got off to a slow start, then I kind of found my rhythm,” said Garza, who tied Fred Brown’s 49-year-old Iowa record of 13 straight 20-point games. “Toward the end, it kind of got away from me again.”
Being a 265-pounder who played all but 24 seconds of a game against players as physical as Michigan State’s, maybe something had to give.
Izzo said Tillman was his nominee for player of the game. And, Izzo said, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
“For a who scored six points,” Izzo said, “he made a hell of an impact on the game.”
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The moment that most felt like the game was Michigan State’s probably came when Tillman blocked a Garza shot then forced him to travel with 1:08 left and MSU up 70-64.
Garza, the likely 2020 Big Ten Player of the Year, was without a basket in the first eight minutes, but took advantage of Tillman’s absence to finish the half with 12 points.
Senior big man Ryan Kriener sank a 3-pointer for a 42-32 Iowa lead with 17:26 left. Offense, however, came harder the rest of the way.
“The game was really in the balance and Michigan State can really ramp up the defense at times, and did that and got a few key turnovers,” said Kriener, who scored 19 points.
Senior point guard Cassius Winston, the 2019 Big Ten Player of the Year, didn’t have a first-half field goal attempt. That was a pace the Hawkeyes would have preferred he had maintained after halftime, when Iowa led 33-27. Winston made the first four 3-pointers he took, three after MSU fell behind 42-32 with 17:26 left.
He also drove, dished and defended, and was largely responsible for the Spartans scoring 24 fast-break points. (The Hawkeyes had zero.)
Winston had a 19-point, 5-assist second half. MSU sophomore guard Rocket Watts matched his career-high of 21 points, scoring from inside and out. Winston and Tillman have played for Big Ten champions and a Final Four team. It shows.
Iowa led for over 27 minutes. “We played well enough to win,” Garza said, “it just got away from us.”
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“I thought we had control of the game for most of the game,” said Kriener, who has experienced all of Iowa’s five consecutive losses to the Spartans.
Connor McCaffery had 11 points, seven assists and zero turnovers for Iowa. However, Joe Wieskamp, who came in averaging 16.6 points in league games, made just 1 of 8 shots and scored four points.
Wieskamp and Garza should both find things a little more open if guard CJ Fredrick returns for Saturday’s home game against Penn State. Fredrick, who averages 10.7 points and has made 46.7 percent of his 3-point tries, has missed the last three games with a sprained ankle.
“I think CJ will be ready Saturday,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said, “but he hasn’t been cleared yet so we’ll see how he does the next couple days.”
Iowa got through a three-game gauntlet without Fredrick with two wins, but this time the Hawkeyes’ seven-man rotation was one good outside shooter too short.
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