Could you feel it? Could you feeeeel the grit?
It was everywhere. So much grit. So much toughness. Iowa gritted itself out to a hot start, playing for their NCAA Tournament lives. Iowa turned the ball over a ton, and MSU had 10 more field goal attempts at halftime, but the Spartans trailed 30-20.
BTN mentioned at halftime that MSU led the Big Ten with seven second-half comebacks. The would prove prophetic.
In the second half, MSU cut the deficit to seven points a few times, including an awesome dunk from Appling.
But Iowa answered, pushing the lead to 45-33 with 12:16 to go and leading me to tweet this.
This thing might be over— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) March 16, 2013
I said "maybe," though, so I was covered.
Then MSU turned up its grit and it's "want to win it more"-ness, going on a 24-4 run to take its first lead and push it to 47-59 with 1:52 left. The comeback was fueled by terrific defense and Gary Harris heating up. Game over, right? WRONG. Ahem, #LawOfGus.
Iowa had some fight left, thanks to a three-pointer that bricked so bad, it went straight into the air and swished through the net, then MSU continued to suck at inbounding the ball, and Iowa made a layup after another bad missed shot. Two Gary Harris free throws pushed the lead to three, and Iowa's last shot would not fall. MSU won 59-56 (Box score). Seriously, how can you not inbound the ball?
This was an ugly game that got exciting down the stretch. Neither team played well at all.
MSU moves on to the semifinal of the Big Ten Tournament, Iowa moves on to the NIT. It's the third straight year MSU has eliminated Iowa from the BTT, after three straight years of Michigan doing that to Iowa.
Now, let's see that dunk again.
MSU grabbed 44 percent of its misses, compared to 28 percent for Iowa. That would prove important. The Hawkeyes had 18 turnovers, while MSU had 14. That's why MSU can shoot 38.6 percent from the floor and win with Iowa shooting 45.5 percent, because MSU had 13 more shot attempts.
-- Adreian Payne was the player of the game for MSU with 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting with 10 rebounds, including six on the offensive end. He was the only Spartan with energy early, and he kept it from turning into a blowout. He went 5-for-5 from the free-throw line and 1-for-2 from three-point range. At what point do we start to seriously worry about him leaving after this season?
-- Keith Appling was solid, though not spectacular: 13 points on 15 shots, 1-for-6 from three-point range - a number of them wide open. He had one assist to four turnovers, but had two steals and generally played with good energy. He drove to the hoop a bit, which MSU needs him to do. Oh, and that dunk. His second straight game with a drive and big dunk.
-- Gary Harris struggled big-time early. He went 1-for-5 in the first half, and his defense was so-so. As a result, Travis Trice started the second half. But Harris went 3-for-5 in the second half to finish with 13 points.
-- Derrick Nix had major stugs. Iowa was beating MSU up inside on defense, and the whistles weren't coming. He finished with seven points on 2-for-6 shooting and 3-for-5 from the free-throw line. He had two rebounds, and his first didn't come until halfway through the second half. The man can dance, though.
-- Branden Dawson quietly was effective: 6 points on 3-for-5 shooting, seven rebounds (three offensive), one assist, three steals and no turnovers. Izzo called him the vocal leader at halftime. He was the one to talk to Nix after the technical foul. His defense was also solid. His overall energy and focus is a good sign moving forward.
-- Travis Trice didn't score on three shots, but had three assists and three steals, providing good energy when MSU needed it. He also allowed Appling to play off the ball a bit.
-- Denzel Valentine seemed to play a lot, but not provide a whole lot: 2 points on 1-for-3 shooting, two offensive rebounds, one assist to four turnovers.
MSU moves on to face No. 2 seed Ohio State. I'm not going to have much of a preview. I'll direct you to the last preview I did of Ohio State. Basically, DeShaun Thomas did everything for OSU in the first game, then the non-Thomas players were great in the second game. MSU led by nine in the second half at OSU, before its worst stretch of defense of the season. (Psst, let's not guard Aaron Craft 30 feet from the basket and give him an easy path to the hoop this time).
I picked Iowa to win this one, and I was almost right. I'll pick Ohio State in the next one. It could be winner gets a No. 2 seed. I just think the Bucks are in a zone right now and playing really, really well. Six straight wins, including games over Minnesota, MSU, Indiana and Illinois. MSU has been messy on offense, and the Buckeyes have a great defense. I do think MSU can take some emotional positives out of this Iowa win, though. Expect a big game from Payne on Saturday.
The Spartans have won four straight Big Ten Tournament games. Indiana/Wisconsin is the first semifinal.
Saturday's game will be on CBS around 4 p.m. ET. KenPom has OSU winning 63-62, giving MSU a 45 percent chance. Basically a toss-up.
Also, last night was the final game for Gus Johnson this season. Sad.