For at least the second time this season, Iowa simply beat themselves. In both affairs, Mike Gesell was the unfortunate Hawkeye in the center of things.
Earlier this season in Ames with Iowa down one, Gesell missed two free throws with thirteen seconds to go, en route to a gut-wrenching loss to Iowa State. Tonight, in front of a raucous, capacity home crowd, Gesell split a pair of free throws with 48 seconds in regulation and in doing so, let a winning opportunity slip through Iowa’s fingertips.
It is not fair to place all the blame on the sophomore guard, considering as a team Iowa shot 30-43 from the “charity” stripe, good for 70%. The percentage may not be terrible, but when the Hawkeyes went from the 9:57 mark of the second half until a desperation Devyn Marble layup with six seconds to go in the overtime without a field goal, that number needed to be a notch higher for the hometown team.
This was a big one for Hawks fans. The first time since 2006 that there was a top-25 matchup at Carver, the arena was boisterous from the start. The student second was filled with gold over an hour prior to tipoff.
But despite the hotly contested game, this one boils down to an inability to covert free throws.
Despite the charity stripe struggles for Iowa, Michigan State failed to put away the Black and Gold. Keith Appling, who many assert will be the Big Ten’s player of the year, missed both of his free throw attempts with five seconds to go, giving Iowa a prayer down two. But, when the aforementioned Gesell crashed to the floor and failed to convert a game-tying layup at the horn, people left Carver with a legitimate belief that this was another attainable victory that got away.
Iowa failed to make the NCAA tournament a season ago due to their inability to close out opponents. While they were able to finish off the likes of Ohio State and Minnesota in impressive surges, losses to Iowa State, Wisconsin and now to the Spartans indicate the razor-thin line between wining and losing.
Baring an unforeseen crash to Earth, Iowa will be a tournament team in 2014. The question then becomes whether or not they have what it takes to finish off opponents in tight games. This is the third game in a row that Iowa has struggled with their half court offense. Add onto the hand checking rules that have made headlines this season, Iowa will be forced to take advantage of their ability to get to the free throw line, a definite strength of this team. This will not be the last time that the end result will come down to whether or not they can step up and knock them down.