If Michigan State can hold on to first place in the Big Ten and win its first conference championship in eight years, coach Tom Izzo thinks his team’s comeback victory over the weekend could be the defining moment of that title run.
Iowa coach Todd Lickliter hopes his team’s performance in its last game isn’t representative of the Hawkeyes’ season as a whole.
The ninth-ranked Spartans look to build on a come-from-behind win and extend the longest season-opening conference road win streak in school history Thursday night when they meet the Hawkeyes, who are hoping to bounce back from a demoralizing defeat.
Michigan State (16-3, 6-1) had its 28-game home winning streak snapped with a stunning 70-63 loss to Northwestern on Jan. 21 and appeared to be in jeopardy of suffering consecutive defeats when it fell behind by 13 points early at Ohio State on Sunday.
The Spartans, though, scored 52 second-half points and outrebounded the Buckeyes 35-19 to earn a 78-67 victory, one that Izzo thinks could propel his team to a strong finish.
“If we stay up there, it will be one of those games that we’ll look back and say it was a really big game for us,” said Izzo, whose team hasn’t finished atop the Big Ten since it won at least a share of four straight conference titles - and one national championship - from 1998-2001.
“It was important to bounce back from the Northwestern game to win a game that didn’t look like was going our way for a while.”
The Hawkeyes (12-8, 2-5) appeared to have their last game wrapped up before blowing a 13-point lead with eight minutes left in a 63-59 road loss to Penn State on Saturday.
“It’s painful more than frustrating,” Lickliter said. “They just made one play after another. It just comes down to being able to execute toward the end. Not real difficult things, we didn’t have to make big shots or anything. We needed to execute defensively, just basic techniques, finish plays.”
Iowa has lost four of its last five coming into the first of consecutive games against ranked opponents. The Hawkeyes visit No. 19 Illinois on Sunday.
“We don’t have time to do any kind of pouting,” Lickliter said. “We have to bounce back.”
Though it’s been more than 15 years since the Hawkeyes beat the Spartans on the road, they’ve won five straight in the series at home or at a neutral site. Three of those victories came against ranked Michigan State teams, including 43-36 over the then-No. 6 Spartans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena last Jan. 12 as Iowa held Michigan State to a school-record low for points in a game during the shot clock era.
The Spartans, though, have won their first four Big Ten road games for the first time in school history to improve to 6-0 away from home overall. Izzo sees even brighter things in his team’s future if it can get healthy.
“The good news is, we’re not nearly as good as I think we can be,” Izzo said. “But when do we start to get closer to our potential? We’ve got Goran Suton back, but his knee is not the same, and Raymar Morgan is still sick.
“If we can get some guys back and get going, I still think we have a chance to be really good.”
Iowa has had its own injury issues as senior forward Cyrus Tate has missed four straight games with a high ankle sprain. Tate, the Hawkeyes’ leading rebounder with 6.3 per game, could return Thursday.