'Locked in' Spartans suffocate Hawkeyes, go 2-0 in Big Ten
East Lansing — Michigan State had four players score in double figures on Monday night against Iowa, but the offense was hardly the story for the Spartans.
Back on its home court for the first time in two weeks, No. 10 Michigan State frustrated No. 18 Iowa from beginning to end, limiting the Hawkeyes to 32.8 percent shooting on its way to a 90-68 victory at the Breslin Center to open Big Ten play with back-to-back victories.
The Spartans (7-2, 2-0) were solid defensively in the first half, but in the second, they were suffocating, forcing the Hawkeyes to miss 19 of their first 20 shots in the second half and holding them to just one field goal — a 3-pointer from Jordan Bohannon — over the first 10 minutes, 21 seconds of the second half.
As the defense was stifling, Michigan State extended its 10-point lead at the break to 33 with 8:35 to play on a dunk from Nick Ward.
That was a familiar scene as Ward led Michigan State with a career-high 26 points on 10-for-10 shooting while Kenny Goins also established a career-high with 19 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and had seven assists. Xavier Tillman scored a career-high 14 points and pulled down eight rebounds, Joshua Langford scored 14 and Cassius Winston had eight points and 12 assists.
“It was just a stern talking to at halftime,” Goins said. “Coach Izz really got on us and we responded really well. We had a game plan from the beginning and finally decided to follow it in the second half.
“I don’t think that’s the first time a team felt like that, got frustrated with our defense. It’s kind of uplifting as a team to physically see the frustration and it makes you want to keep going.”
Iowa finished shooting just 27 percent (10-for-37) in the second half. Tyler Cook scored 15 to lead the Hawkeyes while Isaiah Moss scored 13 and Bohannon added 11.
“We just stayed locked in,” Winston said. “We were doing a better job of playing at a steady pace. Teams are gonna make runs and we played at a constant, steady pace and put stops together and the game opened up from there.”
Winston was held in check on the scoreboard for most of the first half, however, he did hand out eight assists to lead the Spartans. Ward was the beneficiary as he made a living on the low block, scoring 15 points on 6-for-6 shooting.
It all helped the Spartans put together an 11-3 surge late in the first half that turned a 28-26 lead into a 39-29 advantage with 2:21 to play. The Hawkeyes (6-2, 0-2) kept the deficit from growing by getting to the line while Ward added another jump hook and Winston hit a pair of free throws to give Michigan State a 43-33 lead at halftime.
“Last year he was getting ripped and this year he’s getting coached,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of Ward. “There was nothing different it’s just the maturity of him. I’m proud of what he’s done because he’s done it the old-fashioned way. He worked his tail off this summer, he works on his free throws morning, noon and night.
“But I got to give him credit because it’s a product of what he’s done and how he’s done it. … Nick is a load down there. He has that knack to get the ball up and he’s a pretty tough kid.”
Cook and Luka Garza, the Hawkeyes’ leading scorers, were stymied by Michigan State’s defense in the opening 20 minutes. Cook scored five points on 2-for-7 shooting while Garza was held scoreless, taking just two shots.
Michigan State kept the momentum rolling after the break, scoring the first nine points of the second half and limiting Iowa to just one basket over the for 10-plus minutes.
“Pretty much everything,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of his team’s slow start in the second half. “We didn’t get anything going offensively. … It kinda snowballed quickly.”
The victory capped five games in 11 days for the Spartans, who head to Florida on Saturday before getting some down time with three games the rest of the month.
For Izzo, it wasn’t the sort of win he was expecting, but certainly one he will take.
“I gotta admit, it was a shocking game for me,” Izzo said. “Both teams started kinda sloppy and both looked tired, I thought. They had to bounce back from a tough loss at home (on Friday). We had just been on that brutal road schedule and it didn’t seem like a lot of things were going well. Then we got our break going a little bit, started getting the ball inside and that a made big, big difference. Nick played exceptionally well. You gotta give Nick all the credit in world. He had a great game.”