Windy City Miracle: Hawks Top Spartans

2005 started out with a Hawkeye miracle in Orlando. It continued with another miracle in Chicago. Iowa's 71-69 upset of 10th ranked Michigan State was about as improbable a win as many can remember in recent years, yet we saw it happen.

PHOTO GALLERY

Four Iowa players had four personal fouls with roughly 8:00 minutes to go. Iowa had 14 fouls to just five for Michigan State at the same juncture. A nine-point second half Hawkeye lead turned into a Michigan State lead in very short order in the second half, as the Spartans played a brand of man to man defense that would have made Michael Jordan wilt.

But inexplicably, an Iowa team that has nary a McDonald's All American on its roster compared to several for the Spartans, a team that does not have anywhere near the athletes that Michigan State has, a team that just flat out showed that it has the heart of a champion advanced in the Big Ten tournament.

Hawkeye miracles have become commonplace in the United Center, which was the scene for Iowa ‘four in four days' tournament championship back in 2001 when it needed to do just that to make the NCAA tournament.

With the win, Iowa improves to 21-10 and has won five games in a row. They are 6-4 in their last 10 games, all without Pierre Pierce. Should they lose on Saturday, they will still finish 6-4 over their last 10 games.

Michigan State, one of the best free throw shooting teams in college basketball, made just 15 of 30 in this game, including two key misses by Alan Anderson with under seven seconds to play and the Hawkeyes clinging to a one-point lead.

Iowa was 20 of 31, which is just 65 percent, but it was enough down the stretch.

The player of the game has to be Mike Henderson who scored a career high 17 points and committed just one turnover. He was the lone Iowa player who could get to the basket against the quicker Spartans, something he did at least five times in this game.

Jeff Horner shot Iowa out of two first half eight-point deficits, and the Hawkeyes led by four points at intermission.

Another area that defies logic is that Iowa won the battle of the boards 39-37. Michigan State came into the game leading the Big Ten in rebounding margin at a clip of +8.5 per game.

Greg Brunner scored 17 points and had nine rebounds while playing 34 minutes. He was saddled with foul trouble for much of the second half. Horner scored 16 points, 12 of them coming in the first half on four three-point shots. Adam Haluska scored 10 points and fouled out late in the game.

Doug Thomas continued his stellar play, scoring seven points and grabbing a team high 10 rebounds. It has taken him a while, but he is finally becoming a force on the glass that everyone hoped he would be.

INSTANT ANALYSIS

It's simply impossible to put into words of how improbable this win was, but we saw it happen. So many storylines, so much emotion, so many changes in momentum.

Iowa simply should not be able to do what it did with so many fouls, so many turnovers (19, nine of them in the first 10 minutes of the second half and six of them in the first 5:50 of the first half).

Yet, they did it.

Did Steve Alford just save his job? Did he have to win this game to remain as Iowa's head coach? Perhaps we will never know.

But Iowa certainly improved its NCAA tournament chances with this win, it's first major win without Pierre Pierce. The selection committee needed to see a game like this in order to take the post-Pierce Hawkeyes seriously.

With 21 wins an a 7-6 record against teams in the RPI top 50, you have to feel as though Iowa just punched its ticket to the Big Dance. It's Iowa's longest winning streak against Big Ten competition in the Steve Alford era. There have been just eight teams in Iowa history to have won more than 21 games in a season. Iowa is 9-9 against Big Ten competition this year.

They await the winner of the Ohio State-Wisconsin game, a contest that will be played at 3:05 central time on CBS on Saturday.

Who says lightning can't strike the same place twice?


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