Feb. 26, 2012
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Lost among all the excitement of back-to-back victories over nationally ranked opponents and career-best scoring nights by senior Matt Gatens was another big piece of the University of Iowa’s recent wins: Defense.
Iowa was stout against Indiana, forcing 14 turnovers by Indiana. Four days later, the Hawkeyes bullied sure-handed Wisconsin into a season-high 13 miscues.Sunday night against a back-against-the-wall University of Illinois team – losers of their last six games and nine of their last 10 and in desperate need of a victory, the Hawkeyes harassed the home team into a season-high 18 turnovers, three coming on expired shot clocks.
However, as good as the defense was and in spite of the heroic efforts of Zach McCabe and Melsahn Basabe in the trenches, the visiting team didn’t have an answer for the Illini’s 7-foot-1 center, Leonard Meyers.
The UI’s sophomore post scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead the home team to a difficult 65-54, a win that snapped a two-game winning streak of the Hawkeyes, who fell to 15-14 overall and 7-9 in Big Ten Conference play. Illinois improved to 17-12 and 6-10.
Roy Devyn Marble scored 10 points for the Hawkeyes and Josh Oglesby 9 – all in the second half when Iowa was able to take an 11-point halftime deficit down to four when Aaron White nailed a three to put the score at 38-34 with 14 minutes to play.
Iowa didn’t get any closer, however. If it wasn’t Meyers, it was the Illini’s Brandon Paul, who, like Meyers, came off the bench to score 17, a total that included three buckets from behind the arc, two of which coming at the end of extended Illini possessions that were daggers in the hearts of the Hawkeyes.
“I’m proud of our guys because nothing came easy, nothing came easy offensively, nothing came easy on defense,” said UI Coach Fran McCaffery.
“Matt’s 22 points were the hardest-earned 22 I’ve ever seen. I’m also proud of how Devyn and Josh played in the second half and how McCabe and Melsahn played down low. Those guys just kept fighting.”
“We were right there but we just couldn’t get over the hump,” Gatens told the Hawkeye Radio Network.
“We fought hard, particularly our big guys in the second half. We did a much better job.”
Iowa jumped to 5-0 lead on a nice turnaround jumper by Marble on the game’s first possession and a traditional three-point play by Gatens on Hawkeyes’ second, but then the UI went cold – ice cold — for the next 11 minutes scoring just five more points while making just 1 of its next 12 attempts from the field while turning the ball over seven times.
Illinois, meanwhile, rode the big shoulders of its big man, 7-foot-1, 245 pound Meyers Leonard. The sophomore center came off the bench to score 15, grab seven rebounds, and register a pair of blocks.
Meyers gave the Fighting Illini their first double-digit lead at 20-10 with a pair of free throws at the 9:28 mark. He gave them their second with layup at the 5:01 mark that pushed the scored to 24-14. His two free throws with 2:03 left to play extended the margin to 32-20.
And, when Gatens responded with his fourth three-pointer of the half – in four attempts – on the next possession, Meyers fired right back with a two-handed stuff to send the home team into intermission with a 34-23 lead.
Like Meyers at halftime, Gatens had 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field. However, he was the only Hawkeye who had anything remotely close to success from the field. Collectively, the other seven Iowa players who attempted a field goal made just two of their 20 attempts. Iowa was also outrebounded by a 19-13 count in the first 20 minutes.
Iowa returns to action Wednesday night when they travel to Lincoln, Neb., for a date with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Hawkeyes then close the book on the 2011-12 regular season Saturday when the entertain Northwestern on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.