Iowa stays close to league leader

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter isn’t calling it a moral victory, but he’s taking more positives than negatives from last night’s loss at No. 9 Michigan State.

Depleted with guards Jeff Peterson and Jermain Davis injured and out, Iowa (14-14, 4-11 Big Ten) kept pace with the Spartans in a place considered somewhat of a torture chamber in recent years for Iowa. Michigan State (22-5, 12-3) won 62-54, but it was the first time since 1997 Iowa hadn’t lost by at least double digits in East Lansing.

“We knew we had to play extremely well,” Lickliter said. “There were stretches where we did. You’ve got to take some positives out of this. You’re never satisfied with a loss, but you’ve got to take some positives and be a better team.

“I’m proud of the way our guys have adjusted and helped one another and the kind of effort that they’ve given.”

Guard Jake Kelly scored 20 points, and like his 23-point effort against Michigan on Sunday, Kelly became more efficient as the game progressed. At halftime he had seven points and five turnovers. He had just one turnover in the second half.

“I think Michigan State’s defense kind of makes you hurry your shot,” Kelly said. “They’re long and they’re athletic, and you’re afraid they’re going to block it. I was turning it over early, and I wasn’t leading by example.

“But in the second half, I think I just settled down and hit some shots.”

Iowa stayed with Michigan State throughout much of the second half despite three guards playing all 40 minutes. After Michigan State took a 12-point lead with 16 minutes, 20 seconds left in the game, Iowa gradually cut its deficit to five points at 48-43 with 8:23 left.

But Iowa couldn’t keep it up.

Iowa struggled to get stops defensively in the midst of effective offensive play. Michigan State scored on 10 of 12 possessions midway through the second half to keep the Hawkeyes at bay.

The rest of Iowa’s offense joined Kelly with a much more efficient second half. Iowa shot just 35 percent from the floor in the first half, but improved to 55 percent in the second half.

“Coach told us to shoot with a purpose,” said Iowa freshman Aaron Fuller, who scored 10 points. “If we’re open, just take it. We’re short-handed, so we can’t afford to pass up shots. We shot with confidence.”

Iowa took its only lead of the game at 9-8 on a Kelly 3-pointer. Iowa’s first three buckets were all 3-pointers. Iowa also got a lift from senior post Cyrus Tate, who played 17 minutes and scored seven points. Both totals were his highest Jan. 3, a game before spraining his ankle against Minnesota.

While Iowa was encouraged in defeat, Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo was smarting in victory. He was aggravated with the Spartans’ effort and execution.

“We’re not playing like a team that has a chance to play for something special,” Izzo said. “We played like we didn’t respect them. And that happens. They’re a hard team to play against.”

Despite losing its 10th straight road game, Iowa’s players and coaches walked away with good feelings after playing close with the Big Ten leader.

“I’m not going to hang my head on this one,” Kelly said. “This was a hard-fought game. We gave them everything we had. They’re a top-10 ranked team. To be within 10 points ain’t bad.”

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