IOWA CITY, Iowa – When you play your best game of the season, it’s OK to feel good even if it comes in a loss.
Call it a moral victory if you like. They’re just words. It’s about perspective and context.
Let’s face it, there have been a lot of outings when Iowa has failed at being competitive. It was feared that would be the case on Tuesday with No. 4 Michigan State coming to Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Third-ranked Purdue steamrolled the Hawkeyes here a few weeks ago.
Maybe a young Iowa grew up. Perhaps it was tired of being embarrassed. Whatever the case, it was ready on this night.
The 96-93 loss stung, for sure. However, the Hawkeyes showed themselves and others that they’re capable of playing good basketball.
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“When we got back in the locker room, I told the guys that this proves that we can play with anyone in the country,” Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon said. “I don’t care who’s in front of us, we just have to have that mindset going forward each game that no matter our record, no matter our opponent’s record, we can play with anyone.
“That’s obviously something we can build on. We have two more ranked teams (Ohio State and Michigan) that we’re going to play in the next week and a half. We just have to be ready.”
Despite vomiting throughout Monday and not practicing, Bohannon rose to the occasion Tuesday. He netted 17 points ( 5 of 8 on threes), dished out six assists without a turnover and grabbed five rebounds.
Tyler Cook scored a game-high 26 points for the Hawkeyes (12-14 overall, 3-10 Big Ten). Maishe Dailey (13), Isaiah Moss (11) and Cordell Pemsl (11) also reached double figures in scoring in a losing effort. Pemsl pulled down a team-high seven boards.
Iowa shot 52.2 percent from the floor, including 45.0 percent from behind the three-point arc. It handed out 26 assists on 36 baskets and only turned it over eight times against one of the conference’s best defensive teams.
The Hawkeyes led 88-83 with 4:24 to play in the game following a deep Bohannon three. Michigan State pulled it together, outscoring the upset-minded home team 13-5 from that point forward.
Iowa offense bogged down late. Bohannon and Moss both were forced into tough shots on consecutive possessions in the final minute. The Spartans were doubling Cook.
“I was hoping that would free some other guys up, but they played great defense down the stretch,” Cook said.
The Hawkeyes had a last chance to tie it when Nicholas Baer snagged a defensive rebounds with :03 on the clock. He took a few dribbles and launched a shot from half court. The ball banged off the front rim and then to the floor as time expired.
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“I’m really proud of the fight,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “I felt the effort was consistently there.”
McCaffery said he was disappointed in himself for not drawing up better late game plays. Michigan State (23-3, 11-2) figured out what the Hawkeyes wanted and shut it down.
“I give Fran a lot of credit, more credit than I do myself,” Spartan coach Tom Izzo said. “He’s had a tough season. That team is as good of an offensive team that we played. They’ve struggled some defensively. He knows it. We all know it. I don’t know why, just need a little more commitment. The same goes for us.”
The Hawkeyes certainly showed more commitment on Tuesday. It just hurt that they couldn’t enjoy the payoff.
“Obviously, we all wish we could have been playing like this since the get-go because we’d have a way different season,” Pemsl said. “But at least we were able to show, not just everyone else, but ourselves that it is there. We are capable of doing this.”
Iowa returns to action Saturday with a game at No. 14 Ohio State (5 p.m. CT, BTN).