By Pete Ruden
Iowa did something on Tuesday it hadn’t done much this season: show fight and compete with one of the best teams in the Big Ten.
With No. 4 Michigan State rolling into Iowa City, the Hawkeyes weren’t supposed to have a chance to pick up a signature win. But they did.
Still, Iowa suffered a 96-93 loss to the top-five Spartans in Carver-Hawkeye in what was a gutsy performance by the Hawkeyes.
In fact, the last time a team even remotely as good as Michigan State came to town, the Hawkeyes got rocked by then-No. 3 Purdue in a 23-point loss.
This was different, though. Iowa never stopped fighting, even when the Spartans went on a big run early, and even when they kept extending their lead and took the lead late.
“Big picture, we played a hell of a game tonight and I couldn’t be more proud of the guys I get to call my teammates and my brothers,” forward Cordell Pemsl said. “They went to war tonight and although it didn’t come out the way we wanted it to, it was a huge step for us.”
Although it was a loss, it might’ve revealed the most about this Iowa team in what was arguably its biggest regular season game of the year.
It was also one of the best games the Hawkeyes have played all season.
The shellacking against Purdue, as well as home losses to Ohio State and Michigan didn’t showcase Iowa’s best basketball, but the team was much improved against the Spartans. That raises the question: where has this team been all season?
“That is a great question,” Pemsl said. “Obviously we all wish that we could’ve been playing like this since the get-go, obviously we would have a way different season, but at least we were able to show not only everyone else, but ourselves, that it is there, that we’re capable of doing stuff like that.”
The fight of Iowa resembled that of its point guard. Suffering from an illness since Iowa’s loss to Penn State on Feb. 3, Jordan Bohannon was held out of practice on Monday, but mustered up enough strength to take on the Spartans.
His efforts didn’t go unnoticed. Bohannon ever so slightly resembled Michael Jordan’s Flu Game in the 1997 NBA Finals by posting 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting from deep, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds.
His impact came when the Hawkeyes needed it the most as well, hitting multiple 3-pointers in the second half to give Iowa a chance.
No matter what the final score was, his toughness showed, just like the rest of his team’s.
“He’s always been a tough kid, so I knew when he hit the floor tonight, he was going to be at his best and giving 100 percent; that’s the kind of guy he’s been since the day I met him,” forward Tyler Cook said. “I’m so proud of the way he came out and played today through what was going on with his body… I don’t know a lot of guys that could’ve done that tonight.”
There’s no doubt the loss stings for the Hawkeyes and their fans, but it isn’t all bad. Iowa played a good team close, and took one of its biggest steps of the season, despite coming out on the losing end.
“It’s definitely a positive,” head coach Fran McCaffery said. “It’s a step to being an example of what we’re capable of doing. We put ourselves in a position to win.”