Dec. 8, 2009
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By Brandon Swedberg
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — The University of Iowa men’s basketball team whittled an 11-point halftime deficit to six early in the second half, only to fall to an experienced University of Northern Iowa squad, 67-50, on Tuesday in the McLeod Center.
The Hawkeyes (3-6 overall) played tough throughout the game, but the Panthers, returning nine of 11 players from last year’s NCCA tournament team, proved to be too experienced for the young Hawkeyes.
“They are a really impressive team with a lot of experience,” said UI assistant coach Chad Walthall, who filled in on the bench for head coach Todd Lickliter. “We had our spurts at times, but the turnovers really hurt us. Our team fought hard but we were never able to get it going.”
Iowa had 16 turnovers compared to five by the Panthers. UNI was able to capitalize on those mistakes, scoring 31 points off of the turnovers. Regardless of the turnovers, the Hawkeyes never seemed to be out of the game until the very end.
The Hawkeyes started with two 3-point field goals to open the game from Matt Gatens and Anthony Tucker. Iowa was able to hold a 6-2 lead, but the Panthers rattled off 17 straight points. The Hawkeyes were held scoreless for 6 minutes and 35 seconds until Cully Payne made 1 of 2 free throws to bring the deficit to 19-7, with 11:03 left. However, UNI continued to pound away and they were able to increase their lead to 24-7
Gatens hit a fade-away 3-pointer with 8:35 left to spark an Iowa comeback. The Hawkeyes outscored the Panthers the rest of the first half, 17-11, and were able to cut the Panthers lead to 11, 35-24 heading into halftime. The team also received some needed momentum off the bench from Andrew Brommer who contributed a steal, a block, an assist and a rebound in the first half.
“We made a couple of runs, but they kept coming back,” said Gatens. “I thought our offense was there, but we need to take care of the ball more. It was our first true road game, and hopefully we can learn from this and take it over to Iowa State.”
The second half began eerily similar to the first with Iowa going on a 7-0 run. Tucker added a shot of the boards, followed by Eric May’s 3-pointer, and a jumper from Gatens to cut the Panther lead to six with 16:12 remaining. But just like the first half, Iowa was not able capitalize on their next few possessions. UNI went on a 15-0 run and Iowa was never able to recuperate from it.
“We were able to cut it to six a couple of times,” said Gatens. “They play defense the right way and it was just a tough game. Overall, we need to take better care of the ball. Their big guys are a force down low, and they made it difficult for us.”
Gatens was the leading scorer for Iowa with 18 points. Tucker and Payne contributed nine, May with eight, Aaron Fuller with four, and Jarryd Cole with two. Payne paced Iowa with five assists and Cole pulled down six rebounds.
“Gatens did a nice job for us,” said Walthall. ” He was able to take the ball to the basket and hit some clutch shots. He is too good of a player to get into any kind of slump, and it is nice to see that he is coming out of it though.”
Iowa was able to win the rebounding battle, grabbing 30. The team shot 19 of 46 from the floor (41.3 percent), 9 of 26 (34.6 percent) from outside, and 3 of 8 (37.5 percent) from the charity stripe.
Iowa will take on another in-state rival when it heads to Ames to play Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum on Friday. The game is part of the Hy-Vee Cy-Hawk Trophy series. Tipoff is set for 7:05 p.m.
“If we can take what we learned from this game, then we should be ready for Iowa State,” said Gatens. “There will be a lot at stake, and a lot of pride is on the line with the game on Friday.”