By Richie Zawistowski
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Battling until the very end, the University of Iowa men’s basketball could not pull off the upset against fourth ranked Purdue and fell 67-56 Tuesday evening in the Big Ten conference opener for both teams. While the result on the scoreboard may be a loss, UI head coach Todd Lickliter is looking long-term for the results from the game.
“We’re better than what we were forty minutes ago,” said UI head coach Todd Lickliter. “We’ve got to maintain that same focus and consistency that’s required to grow and be the kind of team we want to be.”
Coming off back-to-back wins, Iowa held Purdue — who is third in the Big Ten averaging 79.4 points per game — to 67 points on 49.1-percent field goal shooting as Iowa tried their best to pull off the upset.
“I think it was very challenging,” said Lickliter. “Our guys responded well, had stretches of very good basketball. But you just have to play at such a high level to compete against a team that plays as well as Purdue does. There was no back down in us. We accepted the challenge, and we should get better by having played against that.”
Aaron Fuller led Iowa with 15 points and eight rebounds, and Eric May chipped in 11 points and eight boards as well for the only two Hawkeyes to score in double-figure points.
Iowa started the game hot on offense, as Jarryd Cole scored the game’s first two points with a tip-in off a Cully Payne miss. After three pointers by May and Fuller, Iowa grabbed a 10-2 lead early on with three minutes gone by. The three point plays would continue for Iowa as Matt Gatens was able to hit from deep downtown, and Cole made his three points the old fashioned way with a made basket and free throw. The free throw put the Iowa lead to 18-11 with 9:37 left in the half.
Purdue would come back however, and with one minute remaining in the half take a two point lead. A three from the corner by Devan Bawinkel would put Iowa back ahead by one 27-26 with 35 seconds left. Purdue got one last chance to regain the lead before the end of the half, yet turned the ball over on a traveling violation, sending Iowa into the half with the one point lead, 27-26.
Iowa forced the fourth ranked Boilermakers into just 36-percent shooting (11 of 30) in the first half, which helped Iowa hold Purdue to a season low 26 points in the first half.
Gatens picked up his shooting where he left off in the first, hitting another from deep in three-point land early in the second half, as he tied the game at 30-30 two minutes in.
Payne flashed his talent midway through the half, as the freshmen split a double team, and drove the lane which drew a foul, and later hit a contested fade-away jumper off the glass to pull Iowa to 38-43 with 11:44 left.
However the fight from Iowa was not enough, as Purdue would use a 14-5 run to pull away, which was capped by a fast-break alley-oop to stretch the lead to 57-42. No matter how many plays Iowa seemed to make, Purdue would find ways to answer as top-five teams always do.
“They pick up, and try to get you out of your offense,” said Lickliter. “You have to be able to make plays and maintain great spacing. There were stretches where we were effective against it, and there were stretches when they were effective, and they had more of them.”
Iowa would not quit and battle to close the gap to eight with tight defense. After a Purdue turnover John Lickliter led a fast break and flashed a beautiful behind the back pass to Gatens who was unable to convert the layup, but May was able to grab the offensive rebound and draw a foul. He hit both of the free throws to close the margin to 51-59 with 4:28 remaining.
Purdue would answer again, this time with a three-point play after E’Twaun Moore hit a tough layup and converted the free throw to make the score 62-51 in favor of Purdue.
Fuller would respond with a left-handed floater on the other end as the shot clock expired to make it 53-62 with 3:20 left, but after a Lickliter three, Iowa could not pull within single digits again.
Iowa, 5-8 overall, and 0-1 in the Big Ten will host Minnesota on Jan. 2 next, with tip-off slated for 3:05 p.m. Minnesota also opened their Big Ten season Tuesday night, facing Penn State.