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Hawks valiant, but not victorious

BY BRENDAN STILES | JANUARY 21, 2010 7:30 AM

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The Iowa men’s basketball team played as well as one could against a top-10 opponent on the road.

But Michigan State proved to be too much, and the No. 6 Spartans clung to a 70-63 victory over the Hawkeyes on Wednesday in the Breslin Center.

Michigan State improved to 6-0 (16-3 overall) in the Big Ten for the first time under head coach Tom Izzo. Iowa fell to 1-5 in conference play and is now 7-12 on the season.

The night contest began with the squads playing neck-and-neck. The Hawkeyes were up by as many as five points early on, at 19-14.

At that juncture, Iowa was getting strong play from sophomore Matt Gatens, who finished with a game-high 17 points. The Iowa City native was also one of four Hawkeyes who scored in double figures on Wednesday.

But mania ensued late in the first half.

The Spartans took advantage of five-consecutive Iowa turnovers and scored 15 unanswered points to move ahead 29-19. Michigan State finished the half on a 21-4 run and led by a dozen at halftime.

“That’s really on us, those turnovers that we could eliminate ourselves,” sophomore Aaron Fuller said during a postgame radio interview. “Part of it is not being focused, and they really capitalized on that. If we cut down on those turnovers, this could have been a whole different game.”

The second stanza didn’t get any better for the Hawkeyes, and they were down by as many as 19 with slightly more than 11 minutes remaining.

Then, Iowa slowly climbed back.

After only connecting on two 3-pointers in their first 15 attempts, the Hawkeyes ignited from behind the arc. Iowa trailed 58-42 when freshman Brennan Cougill knocked down an outside shot (the lone bench points the Hawkeyes received all evening).

Iowa continued to scorch the net with four more 3-pointers — two by freshman Eric May, one from freshman Cully Payne, who finished with 12 points, and one from Gatens that trimmed Michigan State’s lead to 66-61 in the game’s final minutes.

During the comeback, the Hawkeyes also received major contributions from junior Jarryd Cole, who recorded 10 points and seven rebounds, and Fuller, who just missed his third-straight double-double after finishing with 13 points and nine boards.

Cole sank two free throws with 17 seconds left to make it 66-63, but the Spartans broke away with four free throws down the stretch.

“To our guys’ credit, they’re a team that will fight. They have pride. They care — all the things you have to have to get things started and get things growing,” Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter said during a postgame radio interview. “You cannot criticize this group’s effort in any way. This is a great environment.”

Iowa will play another road game on Jan. 24 at Indiana. Tip-off from Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., was pushed back an hour on Wednesday because of the AFC championship game in Indianapolis. The contest will now begin at 5 p.m. CST.


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