Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was so disgusted that he remained mostly silent in the locker room at halftime. He said he had no answers, so he listened instead.
Then Branden Dawson spoke up, and Keith Appling and Adreian Payne also talked. And the Spartans found their fire with little assistance from their spirited coach.
Payne had 18 points and 10 rebounds, leading No. 8 Michigan State to a rugged 59-56 victory over Iowa in the Big Ten quarterfinals on Friday night.
Appling and Gary Harris finished with 13 points apiece for the Spartans (25-7), who trailed by 12 midway through the second half. They advance to play Ohio State in the next round in a rematch of last season's tournament championship, won by Michigan State.
"At halftime, of all people, the most vocal guy in our locker room was Branden Dawson," Izzo said, recalling the scene after a lackluster start. "He talked about the long road and not losing. Then Keith jumped in. I said very little. This was my time to say, 'OK guys, I'm going to see if you're going to take your team over a little bit.' And we did."
Iowa (21-12) was oh so close to an upset victory that could have cemented a spot in the field for next week's NCAA tournament. Instead, the Hawkeyes will have to sweat out a nervous Selection Sunday.
"Yeah, I think we deserve to be in the NCAA tournament," senior guard Eric May said. "I'm really proud of my team. We're a good team and we fought all season long. Wherever we're playing, we're going to play our tails off next week wherever we're playing."
The Hawkeyes got at least one basket from 11 players, but none of them scored in double figures. Mike Gesell led the way with nine points, and Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe each had eight.
There were several close calls throughout the physical, bruising matchup, and Iowa coach Fran McCaffery paused a couple of times while trying to hide his frustration with the officiating.
"I've been doing this a long time," he said. "I've coached in a lot of games. I've coached in a lot of tournaments. I've coached favorites and I've coached underdogs. This team deserved a better fate tonight."
Harris made a go-ahead 3-pointer for the Spartans with 4:10 left, part of a 22-2 run that gave Michigan State the lead for the first time in the game. Harris also had a big dunk in the spurt, and Appling contributed six points to the surge.
Derrick Nix converted a three-point play and Payne made a layup to stake Michigan State to a 57-49 lead with 1:54 remaining.
"They came out with more energy, simple as that," Appling said. "They got all the 50-50 balls. But in the second half, we picked it up, changed our mindset, and were able to come out with the win."
The Hawkeyes made one last charge, pulling within one on Basabe's rebound basket with 1:04 to go. But Harris made two foul shots on the other end, Basabe and Marble each missed for Iowa, and the Spartans ran out the clock.
"It felt good and it looked good," Marble said of his errant 3 in the final seconds. "Sometimes they fall, sometimes they don't."
Iowa shot 45.5 percent from the field, compared to 38.6 percent for Michigan State, but the Hawkeyes committed 19 turnovers were outscored 32-22 in the paint.
"We turned the ball over too much," McCaffery said.
Appling drew a roar from the raucous crowd when he finished a drive down the middle with a terrific right-handed dunk over Basabe with 16:59 left, trimming Iowa's lead to 35-28 and sending the Michigan State sideline into a tizzy.
But Marble responded with a 3-pointer, and Iowa increased the lead to 45-33 on a 3 by Zach McCabe with 12:15 to go. McCabe held three fingers up on each hand, then pointed to his head as he ran down the court after the big shot.
It was another heartbreaking loss for the Hawkeyes against the Spartans, who won 62-59 at Iowa on Jan. 10. The game was tied at 56 with 1:04 left, but Appling made four free throws down the stretch to lead the Spartans to the victory.
Iowa opened the rematch with a 9-2 run and limited Michigan State to just eight field goals during an impressive first half. Aaron White and Anthony Clemmons each hit a jumper down the stretch to help the Hawkeyes to a 30-20 lead at intermission.
Michigan State shot 26.7 percent (8 for 30) in the first half, missing each of its eight tries from 3-point range. The Spartans had four assists and seven turnovers at the break.
"It was like we had our feet in the quicksand and couldn't get out," Payne said. "With plays like Keith made, it brought us more energy, a little bit more fight. We've got to bounce back from slow starts like those."
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap