Several critics have described the Iowa men’s basketball team as a squad that lacks in several areas, including depth, talent and experience.
Things that have never been questioned are heart, determination and effort. Unfortunately, that only goes so far as the Hawkeyes dropped another gut-wrenching game in the first round of the Big Ten Conferenc Tournament on Thursday.
Iowa hung in there with Michigan State and nearly eliminated the Spartans from their 14th straight NCAA Tournament but lost 66-61 in Indianapolis.
“Every day these guys came with it,” Iowa head basketball coach Fran McCaffery said. “They respected each other and played with exceptional heart and determination. We continued to get better and we believed in each other and we will continue to get better.”
The Hawks had a chance to take the lead late. Iowa trailed by one with about 30 seconds to play in the game. However, the Hawks never got a shot up as senior Jarryd Cole threw a bad pass to freshman Zach McCabe and the turnover led to points at the foul line at the other end for the Spartans.
Junior Matt Gatens got up a 3 on Iowa’s next possession, but it was just off the mark. Gatens tried to force contact on the shot, but the official swallowed his whistle.
“Matt was the first option on that play,” McCaffery said. “He was the first of a number of options on that play. It’s a read for Bryce (Cartwright) and he made a good read. I thought Matt got a good look at it. Whether or not it was a foul or not, you’ll have to determine that.”
Gatens and Cartwright were in the mix all day long for the Hawks. Cartwright finished with a team-high 14 points but also had six assists and a career-high seven rebounds. Gatens was 5-of-10 from the field and finished with 13 points.
Cartwright got his 182nd assist of the season in the loss. That puts him past jeff Horner for the most assists in one season in school history.
While Cartwright and Gatens kept Iowa in the game, neither were as good as Michigan State’s Draymond Green, who had a game-high 21 points and 14 rebounds. He also added four assists and collected his ninth double-double of the season.
“We wanted to get off to a better start today, so we went inside to Draymond more,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Draymond did a lot of good things for us. That is what we need if we are going to be successful.”
Green was helped out by Kalin Lucas’ 11 points and four assists, while freshman Keith Appling added 10 points. Iowa did get eight points and six rebounds from Cole, but freshman Melsahn Basabe had just six points and two rebounds in just 14 minutes of action.
“He just never got comfortable at either end for us tonight,” McCaffery said about Basabe. “It was definitely sideways, that’s for sure. It was hard for him, and he never really got into the flow offensively.”
Michigan State led by two at the break. The Spartans are 10-1 this season when leading at halftime. The big reason why the Spartans managed to win the game Thursday was due to their rebounding advantage. Michigan State (18-13) out-rebounded Iowa 39-31 and 16 of those 39 rebounds came on the offensive end.
:”It wasn’t a pretty game, there is no question about that,” Izzo said. “It is about advancing, survive and advance, and that is the way it was today.”
The game featured nine ties and six second-half lead changes. The Spartans led the entire way in the first half and had a two-point lead at halftime. Both teams led by as many as seven points. Iowa’s lead of seven came with 11:40 to play in the second half, but Michigan State responded with a 14-2 run that got the Spartans back into control.
“It was frustrating, but I think one thing that happened was that Bryce Cartwright was exhausted,” McCaffery said. “You could see it. He was trying to make plays, he was trying to get us into our stuff. Matt was exhausted, too. I went with a short bench in the second half. I think their intense defensive intensity affected our stamina in a lot of ways.”
Cartwright is the only scholarship point guard available. Sophomore point guard Cully Payne was lost for the season only five games into the year. That immediately hurt the team’s depth. And Thursday that lack of depth came into play.
The Spartans will next play No. 2 seeded Purdue on Friday beginning at 5:30 p.m. The other Big Ten Conference Tournament games will feature No. 4 Michigan against No. 5 Illinois, No. 1 Ohio State against No. 9 Northwestern and No. 3 Wisconsin against No. 6 Penn State.
Michigan State is now 18-13 and may need one more win to secure itself a spot in the NCAA Tournament. A win over nationally ranked Purdue will guarantee them a spot in the dance.
Iowa (11-20) only loses Cole this year. Iowa showed all season long that they can play with the best teams in the Big Ten Conference. Next season, the squad will be stronger, older and deeper and present a much better challenge for others in the Big Ten Conference.
“I’ve definitely seen spurts where these guys can play great basketball,” said the outgoing Cole. “This team is ready. Once they start doing it night in and night out, they will be a force to reckon with. There is no doubt in my mind they can get it accomplished. McCaffery has a great style of basketball, and the guys want to do that, and that is key for us.”
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