IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP)—It’s been a long time since Iowa has won a Big Ten regular-season title. So long, in fact, that no team that’s called Carver-Hawkeye Arena home has done it.
But Tuesday night, the 18th-ranked Hawkeyes took a huge step toward their first outright conference title in 36 years.
Greg Brunner scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, Jeff Horner added 15 points and six assists and No. 18 Iowa picked up its fifth straight win over a ranked opponent, beating No. 16 Michigan State 66-54.
The Hawkeyes (20-6, 9-3 Big Ten) set a school record with their 16th consecutive win at Carver-Hawkeye—which opened in 1983—and are now a full game ahead of Ohio State in the Big Ten standings with four games to play.
Iowa last won the Big Ten in 1969-70, when it played at U of I Fieldhouse. The Hawkeyes held a share of the crown in 1978-79.
“It’s a tremendous win for our program. We’re in the midst of a special journey. We’re trying to win something,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “It’s going to be an incredible battle, but this was a big hurdle.”
Horner keyed a 14-4 run that gave Iowa an 11-point lead midway through the second half. He pushed Iowa’s lead to five with a 3-pointer, drew a charge on the ensuing possession and then hit two more 3s—the last a 25-footer—to help give the Hawkeyes a 58-47 lead with 7:42 left.
With Paul Davis and Shannon Brown hampered by foul trouble, the Spartans were never able to mount a serious comeback. Brunner gave Iowa its biggest lead, 65-50, on a 3-pointer with 2:49 left.
The loss was a crushing blow to Michigan State’s conference title hopes. The Spartans are now tied for fifth place—2 1/2 games behind Iowa—with just five games left.
Michigan State committed 18 turnovers, had just nine assists and shot 3-of-17 from 3-point range.
“I’m disappointed that we can’t seem to find the basket,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. “That affects other parts of the game, too. Now we need to regroup.”
Alford dubbed Tuesday’s affair a “separation game,” in the Big Ten race. Even though Michigan State has won only two of seven Big Ten road games, Alford was quick to point out just how important it was for his team to get past a Spartans squad with four starters back from last year’s Final Four team.
“Until somebody proves otherwise, they are the class of our league,” said Alford. “They’re getting everybody’s best shot. We gave them our best shot tonight.”
Davis led Michigan State (18-7, 6-5) with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Brown added 12 points and eight boards.
Michigan State led briefly early in the second half, 37-35, before Iowa took the lead for good with an 8-0 run highlighted by a pair of putbacks from Erek Hansen.
The Hawkeyes rallied from an early seven-point deficit with a 16-4 run and led 30-26 at the break.
Michigan State jumped out to a 15-8 lead by using a swarming defense to create turnovers and kickstart the fast break. The Spartans opened the game with three straight layups, and Drew Neitzel capped the stretch with a 3-pointer.
Neitzel finished with 11 points.
Doug Thomas tied the game at 15 by catching Horner’s pass behind his head for an alley-oop. Horner followed with a 60-foot assist to Brunner, who broke free under the hoop for a slam that gave the Hawkeyes their first lead.
“This was a strange game,” said Izzo. “I was as happy as 10 men to only be down only four at halftime.”
Horner broke the school record for career assists with his 576th assist early in the second half. Andre Woolridge, who played at Iowa from 1995-97, held the old mark.
Hansen scored 13 points and had five rebounds and three blocks.
Adam Haluska added 11 points for the Hawkeyes, who are happy to be chasing a Big Ten title this time of year, rather than just hoping for an at-large NCAA tournament bid.
“No one can catch you if you keep winning,” Haluska said. “We’ve got to do a good job of staying focused and getting wins.”