Feb. 5, 2005
By TODD DVORAK
Associated Press Writer
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Tom Izzo offered Steve Alford sympathy after the Iowa coach endured one of his toughest weeks. But the sympathy came just moments after Izzo's Spartans made the week a little tougher for Alford.
Led by Kelvin Torbert's 16 points, including four key free throws in the final minute, the No. 12 Spartans held off a late rally to beat Iowa 75-64 in the Hawkeyes' first game since Alford kicked leading scorer Pierre Pierce off the team.
"I don't think anybody knows how difficult it is to lose players," Izzo said. "He (Alford) had a hell of a year going, then wham. And that's not his fault to a certain extent. Same thing can happen to each and every one of us at every program. We all know we're one step away from that."
The Spartans (15-4, 6-2 Big Ten) led by 22 points early in the second half and seemed to be coasting to their 13th win over Iowa in the last 16 games. But the Spartans' foul trouble, fatigue and lackluster defense late allowed the highly emotional Hawkeyes to claw their way back into the game.
The Hawkeyes (15-6, 3-5) drew as close as three points with a little more than a minute left before fading.
"I thought our guys really fought. I thought the effort was really there," said Alford, who dismissed Pierce on Tuesday after learning the junior guard was the focus of a criminal investigation in West Des Moines.
"If they give this kind of effort, it's going to be fun the last eight (games)," Alford said.
Adam Haluska picked up some of the slack offensively, scoring a season-high 24 points. But the Hawkeyes struggled offensively, shooting 28.8 percent from the field, and clearly missed Pierce's ability to make plays by driving the lane in traffic.
The Spartans, looking to bounce back after a tough loss Tuesday to top-ranked Illinois, dominated in every facet of the game in the first half and came out strong in the second.
Maurice Ager sank a pair of foul shots at the 15:39 mark to give Michigan State a 53-31 lead, its biggest of the game.
But Iowa slowly mounted a comeback, starting on its next possession when Haluska made a jumper from the top of the key to spark a 16-6 run over the next 6 minutes that brought Iowa to within 10 points.
The teams traded baskets and foul trouble over the next 6 minutes. Ager, the Spartans' leading scorer, and Alan Anderson fouled out in the final 4 minutes, while the Hawkeyes lost center Erek Hansen at the 5:41 mark.
The Hawkeyes made another surge in the final minutes when Haluska picked up a loose ball and drove the floor for a layup, cutting the lead to 65-58 with 3:28 to go.
Jeff Horner's basket with 1:08 left brought the Hawkeyes to within three, but Torbert's free throws and Michigan State's defense cut Iowa's rally short.
"We were playing so tentatively because of the foul trouble we were in we had everybody and their uncle in foul trouble and no one got into the flow of the game," Izzo said.
Michigan State got double-doubles from Anderson, with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Paul Davis, 10 points and 12 rebounds. The Spartans shot 43.6 percent and dominated Iowa down low, beating the Hawkeyes on the boards and outscoring Iowa in the paint 32-24.
Pierce, who was averaging 17.8 points per game, was dismissed from the team after police confirmed he was under investigation for a range of crimes, including burglary and intent to commit sexual abuse.
Greg Brunner added 16 points for Iowa, and Horner chipped in 13, but they got little support from the underclassmen Alford challenged this week to fill the void created in Pierce's absence.
"Would I have liked to have him in the game? Yeah, I think he would have made a big difference," Horner said of Pierce. "But we don't have him and that's just how it's going to be."