Illinois Sneaks by Hawkeyes

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Feb. 3, 2010

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by Sean Nugent

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Down by 11 points the Hawkeyes light was dimming in the second half against border rival Illinois. They kept fighting, but to no avail, losing 57-49 on Wednesday night inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Iowa (8-15 overall, 2-8 Big Ten) cut the Fighting Illini’s lead to three late in the second half, but could not get a shot to fall down the stretch to take down Illinois.

“We did more good than bad and hopefully we can fight, compete, and eventually make some winning plays when it comes that time,” UI head coach Todd Lickliter said. “I feel like this is two games where it was time to win and we just didn’t come up with the right plays. Hopefully we will keep competing and that will happen.”

Iowa struggled offensively, shooting 16 of 54 (30 percent) from the floor, 8 of 28 (29 percent) from 3-point range and 9 of 12 (75 percent) from the free throw line. The Hawkeyes outmuscled the Fighting Illini on the board 38 to 32, including 13 coming from the offensive end.

The Hawkeyes were led in scoring and assists by Matt Gatens with 12 points and six assists. Jarryd Cole added 10 points for Iowa and Aaron Fuller pulled down 10 rebounds.

The Fighting Illini got off to a quick 5-0 start with a 3-pointer and a slam dunk to open the game. Lickliter quickly called a timeout to get his squad to calm down and refocus.

The timeout proved to be worthy as the Hawkeyes got right back into the swing of it. After Gatens missed a midrange jumper, Fuller grabbed an offensive board and kicked it back out to him for a 3-pointer and Iowa’s first points of the game.

Cully Payne found Gatens two possessions later for another trifecta and trailed 7-6. Eric May drained a 3-pointer of his own before John Lickliter assisted Fuller down low for a layup between two defenders and an 11-9 advantage.

After taking a 16-13 lead, the Fighting Illini scored the next four points to go ahead by one point. Payne found Devan Bawinkel on the left side of the arc and he drained one from long range with his quick release to regain the lead with 7:06 remaining in the first half.

Illinois went on an 8-0 run, but Gatens hot-hand put an end to the run with another 3-point basket. The Fighting Illini went into halftime with a 35-27 lead after a 6-0 run to cap the half off.

The Hawkeyes quickly found themselves down by 10 to open the second half and started to struggle offensively. Iowa scored only five points in the first eight minutes of the second half. Stout defense kept the Hawkeyes in the game. With 11:25 remaining, May hit a midrange jumper on the right side to trail 43-34.

After May broke the silence, the Hawkeyes started to go hard to the hoop. Cole and Payne each hit layups with defenders in their face and were fouled on consecutive plays, but missed their free throws. Still, with plenty of time left in the game, Iowa was down by five and breathing down the Fighting Illini’s neck.

Illinois again took a nine-point advantage, but the Hawkeyes remained undaunted and answered back. Illinois fans that traveled to the game pestered Payne all night after two air-balls, but he got his revenge after he drilled a clutch 3-pointer.

Cole was fouled on the next possession and hit both of his free throws to make it a one-possession game, 48-45.

“I felt like today, we had a chance to win. That’s better than on Saturday (against Michigan) because we didn’t give ourselves a chance to win. We did enough things right today to have a chance.
Todd Lickliter

Every time the Hawkeyes cut it close, Illinois responded right back. Iowa needed one shot to tie the score and could not find it in the last minute of the contest. The Hawkeyes were forced to foul with the clock running down and the Fighting Illini hit their free throws to seal the game.

“We have to stay fresh and keep our heads up,” Gatens said. “We can’t stay down and get mad about the close loss today. We have to learn from it. We’re playing good basketball, we’re competing, we have a chance to win at the end of the game and now it is just a matter of getting that ‘W.'”

“I felt like today, we had a chance to win,” Lickliter said. “That’s better than on Saturday (against Michigan) because we didn’t give ourselves a chance to win. We did enough things right today to have a chance. In these games where we have a chance and were close, we probably try and make 10 plays that the best players can’t make. We try to make plays that just aren’t there and are so low percentage.”

The Hawkeyes will head to Columbus, OH to take on Big Ten foe Ohio State on Sunday with an 11:05 am tipoff.

“We just have to keep staying positive, keep competing and keep working hard,” Gatens said. “It’s a grind and there are a lot of good ball clubs coming up. We just have to keep learning and keep getting better.”