Shaky at start, Spartans slam Iowa with 24-2 second-half run
Iowa City, Iowa — For a few moments on Thursday night, it was starting to look like Michigan State was headed toward its first Big Ten loss of the season.
Iowa was in control early in the second half and the crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena was rocking, a sold-out building sensing the upset of the conference’s first-place team.
But in a matter of minutes, that buzz had gone silent.
Cassius Winston hit two straight 3-pointers to ignite a 24-2 second-half run and help No. 6 Michigan State retake the lead, then cruise over the final 10 minutes to an 82-67 victory over No. 19 Iowa, its 13th consecutive win, matching the Spartans’ best start in Big Ten play under coach Tom Izzo.
“That’s a good feeling,” Michigan State’s Nick Ward said. “They’re going crazy and you take the lead and it goes completely silent.”
Predicting that silence would have been tough with Iowa up by eight just five minutes into the second half and the Spartans showing no real sings of coming to life.
But that’s when things changed — dramatically.
Winston’s back-to-back 3-pointers started a string of 14 straight points for Michigan State (18-2, 9-0 Big Ten) and when the 24-2 surge was complete, the Spartans had a 14-point lead and were never threatened again. Winston finished with 23 points and seven assists while Ward scored 21 and grabbed nine rebounds. Matt McQuaid had nine points, all in the second half as the Spartans took control.
“It’s hard to explain my team sometimes,” Izzo said. “And this game was one of them. I did not think we played very good the first half and we were so fortunate to be down four.
“I was impressed with how we responded, after the first half then being down in the second half and still bounce back.”
Luka Garza scored 20 points to lead Iowa while Tyler Cook scored 17 and Nicholas Baer chipped in 10 for the Hawkeyes (16-4, 5-4).
Despite turning the ball over 10 times in the first half, Michigan State managed to lead most of the way, even with sophomore forward Xavier Tillman playing only three minutes after picking up two quick fouls. The Spartans’ biggest advantage was six after Ward hit a pair of free throws to put Michigan State ahead, 21-15, with 9:28 to play in the half.
But the Hawkeyes slowly chipped away and went ahead, 24-23, after a Garza layup with 6:44 left on the clock. Michigan State quickly reclaimed the lead and pushed the advantage to 29-26 before Iowa finished with a flurry, getting three straight 3-pointers to cap a 9-0 run and lead, 35-29, with a little more than a minute to play.
Winston hit a pair of free throws with 38 seconds to play as neither team converted on its final possession, sending the Hawkeyes to the locker room with a 35-31 lead, one that seemed like it should have been bigger. It led to Izzo’s fiery halftime.
“There was a lot of constructive criticism,” Ward said. “I’ll call it that. We weren’t playing very good. We just had to pick it up.”
Iowa kept rolling to open the second half, pounding the ball down low to Cook, who scored 11 points in the first five minutes of the half to help the Hawkeyes appear to take control, pushing their lead to 50-42. But Michigan State came to life at that point as Winston hit two straight 3-pointers to ignite a 14-0 run for the Spartans.
By the time Ward completed a three-point play with 12:12 left in the game, the Spartans were up, 56-50. After a Garza bucket ended Iowa’s nearly five-minute drought, McQuaid nailed his second straight 3-pointer to give the Spartans a 59-52 lead with 11:24 left.
The Spartans kept their foot on the gas, flipping the game completely as three free throws from Winston with 10:15 to play gave Michigan State a 66-52 lead and finished off a 24-2 surge that effectively took the crowd out of the game and essentially ended the upset bid.
“He’s just a really good player,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Winston, who scored 14 in the second half. “That kid is a special player. He keeps his dribble, he looks for people, and he kind of picks his spots when to shoot the ball. His shooting percentage from 3 is tremendous. He makes big shots in very important situations. He’s really consistent at doing that and controlling the game. That’s why they’re where they are, and you’ve got to give them credit for that. He’s a tremendous player.”
Where they’re at is unbeaten and atop the Big Ten, getting ready for another road game at Purdue on Sunday and a shot at a 10-0 start to conference play. The comeback on Thursday gives Michigan State that chance.
“What I’ve been most impressed with my team is there is getting to be trust between player-coach,” Izzo said. “They responded to things, they don’t take things personal. I was pleased by how we finished that game.”