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Harty: Hawkeyes have mark of NIT written all over them

[ 0 ] March 15, 2013 |

CHICAGO — Iowa freshman point guard Mike Gesell was dealing with two kinds of pain after Friday’s 59-56 loss to Michigan State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.

It was bad enough that he aggravated the stress reaction in his right foot near the end of the game at the United Center. But Gesell also was trying to come to terms with the sobering reality that playing in the NCAA Tournament was probably no longer a possibility.

It was there for the taking with Iowa leading Michigan State 47-35 midway through the second half, but Gesell and his cohorts weren’t able to snatch it.

Michigan State deals Iowa final dose of heartache

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Video: ‘This wasn’t even like the other losses”

That’s been a familiar script for this Iowa team, with Friday’s loss the seventh this season by four points or fewer against a Big Ten opponent.

“This was a big game for us and it hurts to lose this one when we felt that we should have had it won,” Gesell said. “We had the lead the whole game. We knew they were going to make a run at some point and we knew we had to respond. And we just weren’t able to.”

Gesell didn’t play much down the stretch while the Spartans chipped away at the lead. He tried to give it a go once but was noticeably limping.

“My foot got a little sore at the end,” said Gesell, who missed the last four games of the regular season because of a stress reaction in his right foot. “I made a little cut and maybe tweaked it a little bit again. But we’ll see how it feels tomorrow.”

The only good thing about losing is that Gesell will have more time to heal in preparation for what is almost certainly a second consecutive trip to the National Invitation Tournament.

There were some questionable calls that went against Iowa in Friday’s game, especially in the second half. But it was more than just the officials that caused Gesell and his cohorts to wilt down the stretch to the tune of a 24-4 Michigan State scoring run.

Gesell and fellow freshman point guard Anthony Clemmons were exposed as ball handlers throughout the game. They combined for eight of Iowa’s 19 turnovers, and junior guard Devyn Marble also had four turnovers.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery first lost his temper in the second half and then ultimately his suit coat in a fit of rage as the lead continued to evaporate.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” McCaffery said. “I’ve coached in a lot of games. I’ve coached in a lot of tournaments. I’ve coached favorites; I’ve coached underdogs.

“This team deserved a better fate tonight.”

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo tried his best to promote Iowa as an NCAA Tournament team after Friday’s game.

“I’m not begging for him, but I think (Fran) is a hell of a coach and that his team has just gotten better,” Izzo said of Iowa, which fell to 21-12 overall with the loss.

All that stood in Iowa’s way Friday was the Big Ten’s most celebrated program over the past 15 years, as well as the reigning Big Ten tournament champion.

You knew the Spartans wouldn’t go down without a fight. What you didn’t know is how would Iowa respond?

Michigan State is and has been for quite a while a glowing example of how to mix big-time athletics with academics. The only frustration or discontent you ever hear coming out of East Lansing, Mich., is when the Spartans lose two or three games in a row.

They were used to being in situations like Friday’s game, and it showed down the stretch.

The first half, however, showed that athleticism goes only so far in basketball. There comes a point when a team has to make jump shots, sometimes even contested jump shots, to prevail.

Michigan State failed miserably in that area, making just 8-of-30 shots from the field in the first half.

The concern at halftime from Iowa’s point of view was whether the Spartans would continue their brick fest in the second half.

Michigan State made just 3-of-15 3-points shots, but all three came in the second half, including one by freshman guard Gary Harris that put the Spartans ahead for the first time 50-49 with 4 minutes, 9 seconds left to play.

Iowa trimmed the lead to 57-56 but then couldn’t make the necessary plays in the final minute to get over the hump.

The problem with Iowa’s NCAA Tournament resume in the wake of Friday’s loss is the lack of signatures wins. Seven of Iowa’s 10 Big Ten victories came against the bottom four teams in the conference.

And while the other three victories came against likely NCAA qualifiers Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota, they also all came at home, which doesn’t carry as much weight as winning on the road.

Minnesota, for example, is playing as poorly as anybody in the Big Ten with exception to Northwestern, and yet the Gophers still are in the dance according to Mr. Bracketology Joe Lunardi probably because they defeated both Indiana and Michigan State at home.

But with an RPI of 71 and strength of schedule rating of 106, Iowa has NIT written all over it.

Now it’s up to the players to make the most of it. The best way to erase what is likely to be the disappointment of not making the NCAA Tournament would be to make a deep run in the NIT.

It’s not what fans hoped for heading into the season. But it would be another step in the right direction, even for Gesell’s gimpy right foot.


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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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