That plan would have worked fine provided the Hawkeyes managed to get back to their lodging. Most of them were slumped over in chairs as the media moved about the room for interviews.
Iowa outlasted, outwilled, outgutted a valiant Michigan State team, 53-48, here at Canseco Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. The College Basketball Hall of Fame will not be calling to obtain a copy of this game. The teams combined to shoot 30 for 94 from the floor with 32 turnovers.
"That's what it's got to be from here on out," Iowa Point Guard Jeff Horner said of his team's heart and determination. "The team that wins the championship is going to be the team that wants it the most. Everybody is tired. Everybody is dying out there."
Horner has played all 80 minutes in this tournament while getting over a bad cold. Greg Brunner submerged his foot in a bucket of ice after each game. It's the part of March Madness you haven't heard much about.
"It's college basketball, so you're not always going to be at your best," said Brunner, a first-team all-conference pick laboring through the first two games here. "If I can continue just to play and get momentum in this last game going into the NCAA Tournament, I'll be fine. It's one of those situations that you have to deal with it. If you sit there and whine about it and cry about it, it's not going to help you at all."
Brunner paced the conference in rebounds this season, but watched as carom after carom alluded he and his tender ankle in Friday's quarterfinal win against Minnesota. He failed to haul in one errant shot. He managed just one board in the first half Saturday before willing himself to four more after the intermission.
"Our resiliency pulled us through," Horner said. "We just played hard today. Coach came in and got on Adam (Haluska) and Bru a little bit. Bru and Adam responded. That was huge. I told them for us to win today we needed them."
Iowa Coach Steve Alford barked at Haluska throughout the majority of Saturday's game. The junior finally responded by connecting on all six of his second-half free throws, including four in the final five minutes.
Iowa's win Saturday looked a lot like its other 23 victories this season. Yeah, the Hawkeyes have shot the ball well in spurts, but it's been hard-nosed, shot-clock draining defense and toughness leading them to success.
"At the beginning of the year, we struggled on offense," Iowa Center Erek Hansen said. "We didn't know our identity. We really just buckled down on defense and battled people that way. Today, both teams were a little tired. Shots were going to be off. Just to grind it down on the defensive end was the way that we knew were going to have to win it."
Michigan State allowed the Hawkeyes a chance to head back to Iowa City and wait for their NCAA Tournament seeding. The Spartans jetted to a 15-4 lead, looking nothing like a team playing its third game in 40 hours.
As it has done for most of the year, Iowa never flinched. It reeled off the game's next 11 points, sending a message to the preseason pick to win the Big Ten Championship that it was going to be a long afternoon.
"It's one of those things where we just have to keep battling," Haluska said. "The training staff and the coaching staff do a great job of getting us rest. It's a mental thing, too. We're in shape. We can handle this. We just have to go out there with confidence and know we can win."
With a 15 for 41 afternoon from the floor, Iowa wasn't wasting a lot of energy on offense. It did live up to its reputation as one of the league's and nation's top defensive teams, however.
Michigan State came into the game boasting three (Shannon Brown, Paul Davis and Maurice Ager) of the conference's top five individual scorers. Though the trio managed 42 of its team's 48 points, they shot just 13 for 39 from the floor and turned it over 11 times.
As a team, the Spartans struggled to 28.3 percent shooting, including 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) after halftime. Reporters tried to give them the benefit of the doubt having played some much basketball in a short time, but they weren't biting.
"I don't think we were as tired as everybody thinks we were," Michigan State Point Guard Drew Neitzel said. "We jumped out to that 15-4 lead. That shows you right there that we weren't. We weren't dying or anything. They just made some big plays at crunch time."
Despite a late-game collapse at Northwestern and a failure down the stretch in a loss at Minnesota that likely cost the Hawkeyes at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title, they have performed well late in games. A veteran lineup rarely has appeared fazed by pressure and strong chemistry has created an us vs. the world mentality.
"We were really getting into each other," Hansen said of the interaction between he and his teammates late in Saturday's game. "We were trying to keep our energy up. We don't want any of us to lay down and die. You're tired. You might think it's OK to lay down right now. We keep talking about the championship to keep our energy up."
In years passed, fear of failure sometimes has cost the Hawks. This team has been motivated by success. You could see that in their eyes during Saturday's closing minutes.
"The whole mindset was that we have to get a championship," Hansen said of the Hawkeyes' plans coming to Indianapolis. "In the conference race, we slipped up just a little bit. We came here wanting first. We're not here to get second place. We're not here to come to the game tomorrow and lose. We have to prove ourselves tomorrow."
And if you thought that today's game was more John Rambo than William Shakespeare, buckle up for more hand-to-hand combat against Ohio State on Sunday.
"The team that wins tomorrow is going to be the toughest team," Haluksa said. "Both teams are going to be worn out. It's going to be the team with the most energy, the most enthusiasm and is ready to battle it out."
Said Brunner: "It's going to take a good defensive effort, a lot of luck and some breaks. That's what it's about. If you can continue to play your style of basketball, you can win a lot of games."
TIP-INS: Iowa's slow start infuriated Coach Alford and Adam Haluska received a good portion of his wrath. The coach called his junior guard during a break in the action and screamed at him to get his head in the game. Haluska allowed Ager two open three point looks early on and looked rattled on his early trey opportunity. It repeated an exchange that occurred Friday when Haluska appeared to be losing focus…Coach Alford pulled Doug Thomas out shortly after inserting this senior into the lineup, replacing him with seldom used Seth Gorney. Alford told Gorney to "do what I ask," clearly insinuating that Thomas had not been doing that…Erek Hansen picked up his third foul at the 19:18 mark of the second half…When Coach Alford pulled Haluska with around 13 minutes left in the game, he said to Associate Head Coach Craig Neal "He's (Haluska) is going to have to guard the point because he can't guard Ager."…Iowa took its first lead of the game, 31-29, at the 12:31 mark on Mike Henderson 3-point play…Hansen picked No. 4 with 7:57 remaining in regulation…Alford was considering burning a timeout around the eight minute mark to get Jeff Horner some rest. The senior had played every minute up to that point. He ended up getting a media timeout so he used one of his at 5:03…Paul Davis was whistled for his fourth foul with 5:08 to go…Hansen fouled out at with :09.1 left. Alford turned to Doug Thomas and said, "You're in. We need a rebound on a miss." Davis made both free throws…Iowa reached the championship game for the third time and will be playing Ohio State for a second time for the top spot…Horner believed the Hawks moved to a No. 3 seed and had a chance to grab a two with a win on Sunday.