On this night, it was the Iowa Hawkeyes who looked pressure in the eye without blinking.
The Hawkeyes (21-10 overall) were plagued by sloppy play early as they were charged with six turnovers in the first eight minutes of play, but settled down to commit only two miscues in the next 12 minutes of action while erasing a seven-point Spartan lead to tie the game at 20-all at the with 13 minutes left in the half.
The Hawkeyes claimed their first lead of the game seconds later when Jeff Horner knocked down a three after a turnover by MSU's Paul Davis. Horner and Mike Henderson combined to score 20 of Iowa's first 25 points.
The Hawkeyes took their first four-point lead of the half, 30-26, when Henderson sank a pair of free throws. After a Spartan basket by Alan Anderson, Horner next hit Brunner with a pretty dish for a lay-in that put Iowa back up by four at 32-28.
Henderson drove the lane with 10 seconds left in the half to give Iowa's is 34-30 lead at intermission.
Horner scored all 12 of his first half points from beyond the arc (4-7).
Four Hawkeyes scored in double-figures, a quartet that was paced by Greg Brunner and Mike Henderson, who each scored 17 points. Henderson, a sophomore, played 37 minutes, was 6-of-10 from the field, 5-of-6 from the line, grabbed six rebounds, and had two assists, two steals and only one turnover.
The Hawkeyes, were also helped by Horner's 16 points and Adam Haluska's 10. Haluska netted all 10 points in the second half before fouling out late in the game. Doug Thomas came off the bench to chip in 7 points and game-high 10 rebounds.
Michigan State (22-6 overall) was only 15-of-30 from the free-throw line, and had 14 turnovers. Alan Anderson led the Spartans with 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting, but was just 5-of-10 from the line. Paul Davis and Shannon Brown added 14 each for the Spartans, who lost for only the third time in their last 15 games.
The Hawkeyes opened up a nine-point lead at 46-37 when Brunner took a pretty feed from Horner for an easy bucket with just over 15 minutes left to play. It was then that Michigan State cranked up its full-court pressure. Iowa went almost two minutes without getting across mid-court as the Spartans scored 10 unanswered points and caused three Iowa turnovers.
The game was a battle of wills for the next 12 minutes with Michigan State getting up by as many as three on three different occasions. Henderson's slash and bucket gave Iowa a 63-62 lead at the 3:40 mark.
In the end, the Hawkeyes won the game because they out-shot the Spartans from the field (44.2 % to 41.4 %) and the charity stripe (64.5 % to 50 %). They also outrebounded Michigan State (39-to-38), and overcame 18 turnovers and 26 fouls to boot.
Iowa outscored the Spartans 29-18 in the final 12 minutes of the second half, a run that was sparked by a technical foul called on Iowa's bench at 12:14 and just seconds after Alan Anderson slammed home a dunk.
Davis made a layup with 10:12 to give Michigan State its first lead since 5:12 left in the first half. But Iowa wouldn't go away. With four players - Thomas, Erik Hansen, Haluska and Brunner - all playing with four fouls for the last 5:05, Iowa took the lead for good with 1:40 left when Brunner muscled his way inside for a layup.
Haluska then stole the inbounds pass and was fouled, making both shots to give Iowa a 67-63 lead with 1:29 left. Kelvin Torbert responded with a 3-pointer that pulled Michigan State to 68-66 with 40 seconds left, getting fouled in the process.
Torbert missed the free throw, and Thomas grabbed the rebound. He was quickly fouled and made both free throws, to seemingly seal the game.
But the Spartans weren't done. Shannon Brown caught the ball with one foot over the 3-point line, looked down and then stepped back before letting it fly with 29.5 seconds left. The shot was good, cutting the Hawkeye lead to 70-69.
After another Iowa turnover, Anderson was fouled under the basket with 6.5 seconds left. Anderson, the Big Ten regular season leader in FT percentage (.927), missed them both.
The Spartans missed 5 of their last 6 free throw attempts down the stretch.
Anderson's second miss caused a near rugby scrum for the loose ball. Iowa's Jack Brownlee, who'd played a grand total of 62 minutes during the regular season, came up with it and was fouled with 1.2 seconds left.
Brownlee, who didn't have a free-throw attempt during the regular season, missed the first and then tried to miss the second to run out the clock. However, as often happens in those situations, the intended miss instead became an unintended basket – putting the game at 71-69 – and giving the Spartans one last shot to win.
On the inbounds play, Michigan State's Chris Hill heaved a pass toward midcourt, but Horner intercepted the ball to end the game.
Iowa improved to 17-2 when leading at the half, while Michigan State falls to 1-5 when trailing at the break. With the victory, the Hawkeyes have all but assured themselves of a birth in the NCAA tournament. Their next game is Saturday afternoon against the winner of Friday night's Wisconsin versus Ohio State quarterfinal matchup
Meanwhile, Michigan State must now watch and wait until Sunday evening to see where they land, and what seed they land with, when the NCAA selection committee announces the lineup for their 2005 National Championship Tournament.