Izzo 'embarrassed' as Michigan State suffers historic home loss to Iowa

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Things were starting to look up for Michigan State heading into the weekend.

The Spartans had won two in a row and were starting to build some confidence heading into the stretch drive of the Big Ten season, needing to put together a solid stretch in order to have a shot to reach the NCAA Tournament for the 23rd straight season.

But there are no easy nights in the Big Ten, and often, it’s one of the best teams in the country that takes the court with the Spartans.

That was true on Saturday at Breslin Center as the optimism that was slowly building for the Spartans was stomped out in a flurry of harsh reality. No. 15 Iowa dominated from beginning to end, making seven of its first 10 3-pointers on its way to an 88-58 blowout of the Spartans.

BOX SCORE: Iowa 88, Michigan State 58

“I’m embarrassed,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “That was a poor performance.”

It was hard to argue with Izzo, who suffered the worst home loss in his 26 years leading the Spartans. The 30-point defeat surpassed a pair of 22-point losses — the first to Michigan in 1996 and the second to Duke in 2003 — and marked the second time this season Michigan State has lost a Big Ten game by 30 points. The first came on Jan. 28 when Rutgers beat Michigan State, 67-37, the Spartans' first game back from a nearly three-week COVID-19 layoff.

It was also the worst home loss since Jan. 4, 1975, when Michigan State lost by 52 to Indiana when 10 black players walked out of a team meeting and were suspended by coach Gus Ganakas.

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This loss, however, came as Michigan State (10-8, 4-8 Big Ten) believed it was starting to turn the corner after back-to-back wins over Nebraska and Penn State. Considering the Spartans pushed the Hawkeyes to the limit in Iowa City almost two weeks ago, they believed they had a shot to win a third straight.

Instead, it was more of the same as the offense struggled and the Spartans are back to searching for answers.

Michigan State's Thomas Kithier fights for a rebound with Iowa's defense in the first half.

“It is embarrassing,” junior Gabe Brown said, reinforcing the stance from his coach. “I mean, 30 points at home is horrible. We don't want that. So it is embarrassing to go out there and play like that, like what we did.”

Brown was one of the few bright spots for the Spartans, as he scored 15 points and was active in his third game back after being knocked out with COVID. Aaron Henry added 13 points and Joshua Langford chipped in 11, but the offense was inefficient once again and the defense fell apart as Iowa was on fire for most of the game, hitting from long range and taking easy bucket after easy bucket.

Joe Wieskamp scored 21 for Iowa (15-6, 9-5) while Jack Nunge added 18 and Connor McCaffery scored 16 for the Hawkeyes. Luka Garza, the leading scorer in the country, managed only eight points but was hardly needed as Iowa shot better than 50% for most of the game, including 13-for-25 from 3-point range as Iowa swept the season series for the first time since 2015-16.

“It’s something that’s tough to do,” Wieskamp said. “They’re a really good team, especially at home. To come in here and win like that in that fashion feels really good for us.”

Michigan State opted to double-team Garza early, the same way the Spartans approached the first meeting. This time, it was clear that approach wasn’t going to work as Garza was limited but the Hawkeyes’ shooters made the Spartans pay.

“You’ve got to pick your poison,” Izzo said. “But I didn't think we did anything different than we did (the first game). We missed some shots. They made some shots, and that was the difference in the game.”

It didn’t take long for things to get out of hand as Iowa opened the game making seven of its first 10 3-pointers and used a 13-2 run midway through the half to break the game open.

The Hawkeyes finished the half shooting 53.3% (16-for-30), including 8-for-13 from 3-point range as Michigan State was just 2-for-11 from long distance and was 11-for-35 overall, right down to a missed layup from Henry in the final minute of the half as the Hawkeyes took a 46-27 lead to the locker room.

The second half had a similar feel after Michigan State scored the first four points, just like it did in the first. From there, however, Iowa scored the next 14 and any chance at a second-half rally had evaporated less than six minutes into the half.

The Hawkeyes continued to pull away from there as Michigan State was never able to get the margin within 20.

Michigan State now hits the road, heading to Purdue on Tuesday and Indiana on Saturday with its margin for error just about gone.

“I’ve lost games before and, no doubt, this is one of the tougher stretches,” Izzo said. “But I’ve got to keep in perspective everything that's going on and just got to try to work a little harder, to be honest. I did not think we played with the same energy that we played in the last two games and that doesn't fall on anybody but me. So I’ve just got to do a better job.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau