CHICAGO — Iowa arrived at the United Center on Friday ready to fight for its postseason life.
Every shot contested. Every rebound challenged. Every loose ball a floor burn waiting to happen.
The Hawkeyes left it all on the court, leading for the first 36 minutes before Michigan State rallied behind a huge second-half run to knock Iowa out of the Big Ten Tournament for the third straight year, 59-56.
“We deserved a better fate,” coach Fran McCaffery said, measuring his words carefully to mask frustration with a number of calls which did not go Iowa’s way late in the game.
“I’ve been in this business a long time and these guys, I couldn’t be prouder of the way we fought, the way we battled. We deserved better.”
About the only thing Iowa did not do against the third-seeded Spartans was take care of the ball, matching a season high with 19 turnovers that ultimately led to 19 Michigan State points that proved to be the Hawkeyes’ downfall.
“We talked about how we needed to take better care of the ball than we did against them the first time when we had 18 (in a 62-59 loss),” McCaffery said. “We didn’t get that done.”
Several helped Michigan State overcome a 12-point deficit in the final 10 minutes, but Iowa still found itself with one final shot of helping its NCAA Tournament hopes.
But with Keith Appling’s outstretched arms in his face, Devyn Marble rattled a 3-point try from the left wing off the rim with 5 seconds remaining.
“We had set something up for Josh (Oglesby), but I got caught a bit and I knew I had to get something up quick,” Marble said. “I stepped back, and I thought I had a decent look.”
As it fell off the rim, Adreian Payne grabbed the rebound and raced to the other end of the court as time and perhaps Iowa’s NCAA tourney hopes expired.
“Iowa outworked us three quarters of that game and deserved to be in the position they were in,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “That said, our guys stepped up when we needed it and made a big play, a hero’s play. Our guys didn’t quit. We probably didn’t deserve this one, but we’ll take it.”
Iowa played the type of game it needed to play against the Spartans for 30 minutes, owning a 47-35 lead following a Zach McCabe lay-in with just over 10 minutes remaining.
Michigan State then went on a 22-2 run filled with big shots, frustrating turnovers, plenty of fouls and irritation that led McCaffery to kick the scorer’s table multiple times and rip off his jacket, tossing it first onto the court and then into the lap of an assistant shortly after the Spartans had taken their first lead of the game.
That came with just over 4 minutes remaining when Big Ten freshman of the year Gary Harris buried a 3-pointer in front of the Michigan State bench, giving MSU a 50-49 advantage that Iowa never caught.
Marble, held to eight points, missed a 3-pointer on the next possession and Appling answered.
Iowa (21-12) missed its next two shots as well, sandwiched around a 3-point play by Derrick Nix which led to McCaffery’s jacket-tossing tirade.
Michigan State (25-7) grew its lead to 57-49 on a basket by Appling before the Hawkeyes rallied late, pulling within 57-54 with 1:32 remaining when Aaron White benefited from a friendly roll on a 3-point play. They then cutting the margin to a point on a Marble basket with 1:01 left.
“We did everything we could do,” Hawkeyes senior Eric May said. “We made some plays. They made some plays. We just needed one more, a stop, a basket, something.”
Iowa positioned itself for a frantic finish by mirroring the toughness that has been the foundation of the Michigan State program, defending aggressively from start to finish of a first half that ended with Iowa taking a 30-20 lead into the locker room at the break.
The Hawkeyes limited the Spartans to an 8-for-30 start from the field, denying Michigan State a 3-pointer in eight attempts before the break.
“It felt like our feet were stuck in quicksand,” said Payne, who led MSU with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
That changed just over two minutes into the second half, as did the Spartans’ level of defensive intensity.
“We didn’t show up in the first half,” Izzo said. “That’s on me. We weren’t ready to go. Iowa was.”
* Mike Gesell led a balanced Iowa attack with nine points. Five Hawkeyes finished between six and nine points, including an eight-point, eight-rebound performance by Melsahn Basabe.
* The Hawkeyes have lost only one game by more than four points since Jan. 23 — falling 73-60 at Indiana on March 2.
* Iowa’s 19 turnovers equaled a season high. Michigan State coughed up the ball 13 times.
*Michigan State has now won 11 of its past 12 games against Iowa.
* Iowa will learn its postseason fate Sunday. The NCAA field is scheduled to be announced shortly after 5 p.m. The NIT field will unveiled three hours later.