Jan. 12, 2016
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By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa men’s basketball team won for the first time in nine tries against Michigan State on Dec. 29. On Thursday, the Hawkeyes will try to win for the first time in 23 years at the Breslin Center.
The 16th-ranked Hawkeyes face the fourth-ranked Spartans at 6 p.m. (CT) in East Lansing, Michigan. The game will be televised on ESPN.
“It’s a tough place to play, the crowd is always into it and (Michigan State) feeds off the fans,” said senior Anthony Clemmons, a Lansing native. “They’re a tough team in general. Growing up there, I haven’t seen a lot of teams beat them (at home).”
Iowa hasn’t prevailed on the road against Michigan State since Jan. 23, 1993. Iowa has won twice in the Breslin Center since it opened in the 1989-90 season.
“They’re going to come after us. That’s all it is. We have to be ready for a fight.”
Senior guard Anthony Clemmons
For the Hawkeyes to change that and move to 4-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1999, UI head coach Fran McCaffery says a lot of little things need to come together.
“When you go on the road and play one of the best teams in the country, you have to execute,” McCaffery said at a Tuesday news conference inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“You have to defend, rebound, can’t turn it over, limit their key personnel under their averages, and you can’t make poor decisions with shot selection because that leads to open 3s and transition baskets and gets us into foul trouble. All of that fits, and that’s what we focus on.”
Iowa got the proverbial monkey off its back in its 83-70 victory over then top-ranked Michigan State on Dec. 29. The Hawkeyes know it will be a different animal on the road.
The Spartans are undefeated in eight home games this season, boasting an average margin of victory of 26 points. Michigan State defeated Louisville by four points (71-67) and Florida by six (58-52).
“It’s about keeping poise,” said Clemmons. “When you make a run on them, you can’t get too excited like you won the game. Once you hit them, you have to keep hitting them and going after them because at any time they’re willing to amp up their defense and intensity. When you see (head coach Tom) Izzo going crazy on the sideline; they feed off that.”
The toughness factor is always an added component against Michigan State. The Spartans are known for their physicality and toughness. Iowa must match that intensity and continue to fight for 40 minutes.
“You can’t get rattled,” said senior forward Jarrod Uthoff, a midseason All-American by NBC and ESPN. “Some things might not go your way, but you have to have the toughness to fight through them.”
The Hawkeyes handed the Spartans their first (and only) loss Dec. 29 when all-everything forward Denzel Valentine was watching from the sidelines because of injury. Valentine and his 17.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 6.8 assists returned to the floor Sunday in a 92-65 road win at Penn State.
“They’re a totally different team,” said Clemmons, a high school teammate of Valentine and Michigan State guard Bryn Forbes at Sexton High School. “Denzel contributes 30 to 35 points per game with his points, assists, and pass to assists. He’s valuable to their whole offense and they feed off his confidence. Playing with him, I know how that works.”
Clemmons also knows the junkyard dog mentality the Spartans will have trying to avenge their only defeat.
“They’re going to come after us,” he said. “That’s all it is. We have to be ready for a fight.”