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Hawkeye men’s basketball team will try to end close losses

BY SCOTT MILLER | MARCH 6, 2009 7:22 AM

When looking at the Iowa men’s basketball team, one is hard-pressed to remember the blowout losses.

Sure, the Hawkeyes, who sit at 10th in the conference with a 4-13 record, have endured plenty of defeats over the past four months. But when trying to recall how head coach Todd Lickliter’s squad amassed 16 losses in 30 games, it’s easier to think of the heartbreakers than the blowouts.

There was the conference-opener on New Year’s Eve against Ohio State. At the time, the Hawkeyes looked promising in Lickliter’s second year on campus. The young squad was 10-3 — a far cry from the record-setting 13-19 record a season earlier.

Iowa went into Columbus with high hopes, only to lose, 68-65. That started a string of losses — nine in conference play — that were decided by eight points or fewer.

There was the 52-49 collapse against Minnesota at home, when the Hawkeyes blew a 13-point lead after senior Cyrus Tate went down with an ankle injury.

There was the defeat against Indiana on the road, 68-60, and 10 days later — on Valentine’s Day, no less — the 49-45 heartbreaker at home to Purdue.

Countless other examples exist — such as the last three games, against Michigan State, Northwestern, and Ohio State, in which the Hawkeyes have scored only 17 fewer points than their opponents.

But few contests were as mentally draining as Iowa’s Jan. 24 game against Penn State.

On the road and ahead 54-41 with eight minutes remaining, Lickliter’s squad let the Nittany Lions go on a 22-5 run to close out the game, 63-59.

“I thought we played some really outstanding basketball throughout the game, but just when the plays were to be made, they made them,” Lickliter said at the time.

That’s been the story all year for the Hawkeyes, especially in conference play.

Looking to avenge that Jan. 24 loss and gain any sort of momentum going into next week’s Big Ten Tournament, Iowa will host Penn State’s on Saturday at 1:05 p.m.

In the team’s last matchup, sophomore Jake Kelly put up 19 points in 36 minutes of play, and freshman Aaron Fuller added 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting.

Kelly — playing point in sophomore guard Jeff Peterson’s five-game absence because of a hamstring injury — has thrived as Iowa’s No. 1 scoring option. Since taking over the point-guard duties, the Carmel, Ind., native has scored 21 points a game.

He also recorded his first career double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds against Ohio State on March 3.

But in the Hawkeyes’ 62-54 road loss against Michigan State, it became clear Kelly wasn’t going to be able to do it all on his own. The sophomore scored 20 of the team’s 54 points, with Fuller the only other Hawkeye to reach double figures.

Against the Buckeyes, Kelly received more support from junior sharpshooter Devan Bawinkel, who netted a career-high eight 3-pointers and led Iowa with a game-high 24 points.

“I hate to say it, but that’s what he’s supposed to do,” Lickliter said after the game.

Kelly could get Peterson back by Saturday to deal with the Nittany Lions’ combination of Talor Battle and Jamelle Cornley, who scored 44 of the team’s 63 points in the teams’ first meeting. On March 2, Lickliter said his injured point guard could play against Penn State.

“I think it is too early to know for sure,” he said at the time. “He told me he was going to try.”
Regardless of which Hawkeyes trot out on the Carver hardwood, the Hawkeyes hope to end their run of close losses and get back to the team that was 10-3 going into conference play.

“It gets frustrating,” Bawinkel said after the Ohio State game. “We’re in so many games, and then we lose it down to the wire. It gets really frustrating seeing us not pull it out and get the victory.”


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