Baer’s prayer at the buzzer almost goes in to force OT
IOWA CITY, Iowa – It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Iowa wasn’t supposed to be a bottom-feeder in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes weren’t supposed to limp their way through the 2017-18 season like they have.
But because Iowa has played so poorly this season, Tuesday night’s game versus fourth-ranked Michigan State wasn’t supposed to be much of a game.
It wasn’t supposed to be close, but the enduring spirit and unwavering Hawkeye fight made it so.
Michigan State survived its trip to Iowa City with a slim 96-93 victory after Nicholas Baer’s half-court prayer clanked off the front of the rim.
Baer’s shot came close to falling, and Iowa came that close to taking down yet another high-ranking Michigan State team inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes hung around in the first half and only trailed by six points at the break before taking their first lead early in the second half.
A dogfight ensued and the lead changed eight times between then and the final buzzer.
During that time, Tyler Cook threw down some thunderous dunks and made a handful of jump-hooks to grow Iowa’s lead to as many as eight. Jordan Bohannon – who was again playing through an illness – and Maishe Dailey each hit multiple three-pointers, prompting a few cheerful outbursts from the Hawkeye faithful.
Baer and Cordell Pemsl provided energy with emphatic blocks and hard-nosed defense on the Spartans’ top players in Miles Bridges and Nick Ward.
All of it contributed to Iowa nearly doing what many thought would be impossible.
Offensively, Iowa couldn’t have played a better game. The 93 points is the most allowed by Michigan State – the best field-goal percentage defense in the country – all season.
Michigan State only gave up 45 points to nationally-ranked North Carolina earlier in the season.
Iowa shot 52 percent from the floor Tuesday night, 45 percent from three-point range, and shot 63 percent (12-of-19) from the free throw line. Iowa was in the double bonus for the last 11 minutes of the game.
The Spartan defense stepped up when it mattered most. On two of Iowa’s last four possessions, Michigan State forced them to use the entire shot clock and didn’t allow an open look.
Bohannon was forced to shoot a jumper with just over a minute to play. The shot was blocked by Bridges, and Bohannon fouled him near half court. Bridges made both free throws, putting Michigan State up 92-91, the game’s final lead change.
The Spartans forced Iowa to call a timeout with 11 second on the shot clock on the next possession. Out of the timeout, Iowa still couldn’t get space, and Isaiah Moss forced up an air-ball.
Down by 1, Iowa nearly got a steal in the backcourt with 10 seconds left, but was forced to foul with six second remaining. Joshua Langford made both free throws, making the score 96-93.
Bridges stole the ensuing inbounds pass from Dailey intended for Baer near half court. After missing both of his free throws, Baer’s half court heave nearly found nylon.
It took everything the Spartans had to survive.
There are no moral victories in college basketball, but the Hawkeyes have plenty to hang their hats on after Tuesday. No one gave them a chance to beat one of the nation’s top teams, but they nearly did it, and they did it by playing the only way this team know how: hard.
The Hawkeyes were flying high and having fun against the Spartans, and they never backed down. It’s clear in the way that the team plays that they expect to win these games, and they’re going to keep fighting every time they step on the court.
Iowa (12-14, 3-10 Big Ten) has another chance to take down a ranked opponent on Saturday when the Hawkeyes travel to Columbus to take on 14th-ranked Ohio State (20-5, 11-1 Big Ten) at 5:00pm CST. Ohio State beat Iowa 92-81 in Iowa City on January 4.
Ohio State plays at third-ranked Purdue Wednesday night at 7:30pm CST on Big Ten Network.