Iowa showed it had progressed in the last two weeks. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, they learned that there is more road to cover on Wednesday night.
Seventh-ranked Michigan State knocked them off for the second time in 11 days, a 70-63 decision at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. Iowa stood within a possession of the lead twice in the closing minutes, but could not get over the hump after falling behind by 19 in the second half.
"Too often, we get anxious and try to make a big play," Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter said during his radio postgame interview. "With a team like Michigan State, two or three mistakes (in a row), and they just capitalize. We were stuck on 19 for a long time. We had nine turnovers at the half. Those things are going to be really hard to overcome.
"But I will say this, to our guys' credit, and I've been saying this all along, they're a team that will fight. They have pride. They care. All the things that you have to have initially to get things started, to get things growing, they have. You cannot criticize this group's effort in any way."
Iowa's Aaron Fuller just missed his third double-double in the row. The sophomore netted 13 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. Matt Gatens added 17 points, three rebounds and three assists (six turnovers), while Jarryd Cole kicked in 10 points and seven boards.
"I'm really proud of the guys," Fuller said on the radio postgame. "We fought back hard. I felt like we responded pretty well. Unfortunately, when it came down to it, we didn't get enough stops and they won."
The Spartans jumped out to a 55-36 lead on a Korie Lucious lay-in with 11 minutes, 8 seconds to play in the game. It looked like the home team was headed for a rout.
Iowa, as it has most of the season, refused to go down without a fight. A Gatens' trey with 2:03 on the clock reduced the Spartans' lead to 64-61.
Lucious answered with a nifty driving lay-up through the Iowa defense. After a Hawkeye timeout, point guard Cully Payne (12 points) misfired on a three-ball from about 28-feet.
Raymar Morgan (16 points) helped Iowa out with a turnover, but Matt Gatens missed a 3-point attempt. Cole grabbed the rebound, however, and made both free throws to make it 66-63 with :16 remaining in the game.
Payne fouled Kalin Lucas, who knocked down two shots. Iowa's Eric May missed on a 3-point try. Draymond Green connected on two free throws with :03 left for a 70-63 advantage, which was insurmountable for the Hawkeyes.
"We weren't really on in the first half, but we turned it on at the end," Fuller said. "If we can just play like we did towards the end the whole game, I feel like it might be a different outcome."