IOWA CITY — He slammed his clipboard to the floor, twice. He yelled at his players with vigor. His face was red enough to make you think he’d just spent 15 minutes outdoors on this viciously cold Iowa night.
Call it a tirade or a teaching moment, it doesn’t matter. During their timeout with 12:50 left, Fran McCaffery and his Iowa men’s basketball team were only halfway through the second-half horror that transpired for them Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Michigan State scored 11 unanswered points in less than three minutes to turn a 50-42 deficit into a 53-50 lead. Ball-movement, defense, Cassius Winston knocking down three 3-pointers in less than two minutes ... and the Spartans were just getting warmed up.
After the timeout of rage, the fifth-ranked Spartans proceeded to score 13 of the game’s next 15 points for a 66-52 advantage before the game even got to the 10-minute mark.
“It’s not like we played 40 bad minutes,” Iowa forward Tyler Cook said. “We played maybe eight to nine bad minutes.”
That was seven to eight bad minutes too many.
The double-digit difference lasted to the bitter end on the bitter night, and Iowa’s five-game win streak ended with a harder crash than McCaffery’s clipboard. The final score was 82-67, and these two truths were reconfirmed:
Michigan State is in the Big Ten’s penthouse. Iowa is not.
If the Hawkeyes could get a Winston one time, for two or three years, wouldn’t that be something? A point guard who easily leads the conference in assists, yet scores 18 points a game with a deadly inside/outside game and an on-court vision that leaves opponents bleary-eyed?
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The trouble is, those come along far less often than super blood wolf moon eclipses. Winston had 23 points and seven assists and didn’t seem a bit nervous when his team fell behind by eight.
“Cassius makes it easy to coach,” said his coach, Tom Izzo.
“That kid’s a special player,” McCaffery said. “He keeps his dribble, he looks for people, and he kind of picks his spots, when to shoot the ball.
“He makes big shots in very important situations.”
Iowa, on the other hand, missed a lot of shots in the most-important situations, which was during the Spartans’ 24-2 run.
In his postgame press conference, without saying things that would get him fined or suspended, McCaffery made it clear he wasn’t too keen about Michigan State shooting 21 free throws (and making 20) to Iowa’s 8.
But that wasn’t the difference in this one. The Hawkeyes had 19 more field goal attempts than MSU. They got out-rebounded, 42-26. They froze up when they needed points, any kinds of baskets, to slow the Spartans’ run. They made just 1 of 11 3-pointers in the second half, a far cry from the way they shot holes in Illinois four days earlier.
The first 4:43 of the second half was a defense-optional segment, with Iowa outscoring the Spartans 15-14. Cook scored 11 points in that time, making it look ridiculously easy. The Hawkeyes looked like they really had things figured out, and were about to hand Michigan State its first Big Ten regular-season loss in its last 21 games.
Then, the Spartans figured things out.
“We did something that you’ve got to do in basketball,” Izzo said. “We tried to guard him.
“My God, I could have scored in there. You laugh. I’m serious. I really could have. Those were layups.”
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The Cook spigot closed. On the coldest night here in a long time, the Hawkeyes’ pipes froze.
Iowa goes to 5-4 in the conference. Its chance to be the talk of college basketball for a day dashed away. The notion of beating one of the biggest of college basketball’s big-boy teams lingered for 25 minutes of game clock or so, then left the building inn a hurry.
“Iowa’s a good team,” Izzo said. “A couple years ago they had our number. This year, I guess we had their number.”
With wins over the Hawkeyes by 22 and 15 points, you could probably make that case.
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