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Last shot at road victory for men’s basketball

BY CHARLIE KAUTZ | FEBRUARY 27, 2009 7:30 AM

Nothing sums up a difficult yet valiantly fought season for the Iowa men’s basketball team quite like its winless Big Ten road record — a blemish the Hawkeyes can change Saturday at Northwestern.

It has been a lopsided year for the win-loss column away from Iowa City, a margin (0-8) that tilted further with the Hawkeyes 62-54 loss at No. 9 Michigan State on Wednesday night.

For as many times as Iowa has stayed close, losing four road bouts decided by eight points or fewer, head coach Todd Lickliter’s team has been picked apart by healthier, more experienced rosters in three double-digit losses.

Only two weeks from the conference tournament, however, the 10th-place Hawkeyes might find special incentive in overcoming the road woes at Northwestern this weekend — Iowa trails the Wildcats by just two games.

If Iowa were to trump Northwestern (15-11, 6-9) Saturday and the teams finished tied at the end of the regular season, the Hawkeyes’ series advantage — they beat Northwestern by five on Feb. 7 — would give them a No. 9 seed in the postseason tournament.

“We’re holding up fine,” Iowa sophomore Jake Kelly said in a release after Wednesday’s defeat in East Lansing. “We’re just looking forward to the next game. We know we fought hard and aren’t going to hang our heads on this one. We just have to move on to Northwestern.”

Kelly, named the Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday, has carried the load in point guard Jeff Peterson’s absence, and he is coming off a second 20-point effort against the Spartans. Along with teammates Matt Gatens and Devan Bawinkel, Kelly played the team’s last two games start to finish — 85 minutes total — and impressed Lickliter with his resolve.

“It’s been a real experience for [Kelly],” the coach said after Wednesday’s game. “I’m proud of the way our guys have adjusted and helped one another and the kind of effort that they’re giving.”

With injuries to Peterson and junior Jermain Davis, Iowa’s lineup will look quite different to a Northwestern team that combined with the Hawks for 56 3-point attempts in the teams’ first meeting. During that overtime victory, Peterson led all Iowa players with 16 points, four rebounds, and five assists, and Davis added six points in 18 minutes.

Northwestern has since dropped four of its last six games, while Kelly has seen a dramatic late-season role change that compares with few players in the league. His scoring, rebounding, and assist averages have all increased during the recent shift to point guard, where he again looked natural on Wednesday.

Lickliter hopes the individual growth in another losing experience at Michigan State is indicative of how Iowa will respond in its final shot at a road win Saturday afternoon.

“Even though it’s late in the season, and we want to be able to finish strong, hopefully, it will help us be a better team,” Lickliter said.


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