Iowa City — The No. 1 team in the nation now is in last place in the Big Ten.
Michigan State, looking rattled and rusty, didn't do much well at all in falling to better-than-advertised Iowa, 83-70, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday night in the conference opener for both teams.
The loss is the first of the season for the Spartans (13-1), who were playing their second game without their star player, Denzel Valentine, who's out another week or two following a knee scope.
MSU survived its first test without Valentine, in overtime against Oakland at The Palace last week. But the Spartans were rarely competitive here, before a crowd of gold-clad Hawkeyes fans who packed the building, even though much of the fan base is in Pasadena, California, getting ready for the Rose Bowl.
"One of the rare times in my career I thought, for a better choice of words, punked," said MSU coach Tom Izzo, adding that not having Valentine was absolutely no excuse. "We just got out-physicaled, we got outhustled, they got every loose ball.
"We weren't going to be 31-0, or 40-0, or 50-0 ... so it's no worries for me, except I never like when a team doesn't play as hard as you'd like them to play.
"Give them credit, take nothing away from them, but give us blame. That is not a disappointing loss, it was a disappointing effort, and I think that was the difference."
Michigan State never led in the game against Iowa, which snapped its nine-game losing streak in the series. It was Iowa's first win over MSU since 2011, Fran McCaffery's first year as head coach in Iowa City.
The Hawkeyes led, 37-23, at halftime, evoking memories of the teams' last meeting, last January in Iowa City, where Iowa led by 11 at the half, only to see MSU storm back for the victory.
There was barely a threat of that this time, and back-to-back 3-pointers by Peter Jok about halfway through the second half seemed to put to rest any thought of an MSU rally, extending the lead to 19.
Eron Harris did hit a deep 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down with a little over 7 minutes left to cut the deficit to 12 and Costello followed with a layup to cut it to 10, and no doubt many Iowa fans were sweating, especially after seeing their team blow a huge lead in a loss to top rival Iowa State this month.
But the Hawkeyes battled through that little stretch of adversity, with Mike Gesell making a particularly impressive falling-down jumper, and never led by fewer than 10 the rest of the way.
Izzo said he thought his team was never out of it, but never really in it, either. The players still believed — but then did little to make it a ballgame, as Iowa shot 63.6 percent in the second half.
"That's what (Denzel) kept saying, what I kept saying in the huddles," Matt Costello said. "But we just couldn't get stops.
"I don't know why it happened tonight. I think some guys lost focus. ... Some of the guys fessed up in the locker room afterward."
Gesell led Iowa (10-3) with 25 points, and Jok added 19. Nicholas Baer scored 11 and Jarrod Uthoff 10 to go with his six blocks.
Iowa students chanted "Over-rated" as the clock ran down, and rushed the court following the victory, which should increase the buzz surrounding the Hawkeyes. They played a super-tough nonconference schedule, and clearly it prepared them for the typically tough Spartans.
Costello was one of the few Spartans who did a whole lot well, playing gritty all night to score 17, tying a career high, to go with his seven rebounds. Harris, in the starting lineup in place of Valentine, scored 21 before fouling out with 37 seconds left.
Bryn Forbes, the hero last time out against Oakland, struggled mightily, finishing with just three points on 1-of-5 shooting. Iowa senior Anthony Clemmons, who played at Lansing Sexton with Forbes and Valentine, provided excellent defense to shut down his old classmate.
"Valentine is a big part of what they do. So he's out, you look at Harris, Forbes, Costello," McCaffery said. "Forbes' numbers this year are way better than they have ever been. He's been more aggressive off the dribble, he's doing a lot of stuff.
"We didn't give him any clean looks."
For Forbes' part, he credited Clemmons, but also blamed himself for not finding ways to get open.
Deyonta Davis had three first-half blocks, but didn't play until late in the second half. He finished with six points.
Izzo didn't get specific when asked about Davis' long benching, saying only that his two freshman — Davis and Matt McQuaid — looked like freshman Tuesday night.
McQuaid, cited by Izzo as a key to the game during a pregame radio interview, took one shot, missed it, and had two turnovers.
"My two freshmen," said Izzo, "looked like deer in the headlights tonight.
"We're gonna practice a little harder, we're gonna get loose balls, we're gonna get after some things. ... We may lose because we don't make shots, but I'm gonna find five guys that are gonna get after it a little better than we did tonight."
MSU never really got going, and was way out of sorts in the first half, committing 11 turnovers that led by 12 points for Iowa. MSU didn't make a 3-pointer until well into the second half, and finished 3-of-13 (23.1 percent) from long range.
Izzo was coaching the day after his father, Carl, died at 90. Iowa held a moment of silence in Carl Izzo's honor before the game.
Michigan State returns to action Saturday at Minnesota, and Izzo is expected to coach before heading to the Upper Peninsula for his father's funeral.