Third time not the charm for hoopsters

BY MITCH SMITH | MARCH 12, 2010 7:30 AM

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INDIANAPOLIS — The worst season in Iowa men’s basketball history officially came to an end Thursday afternoon.

For the third-consecutive year, the Hawkeyes (10-22, 4-15) fell to Michigan in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament in Conseco Field House, 59-52. Michigan also swept the two-game regular-season series.

After losing its past two games by a combined 62 points, Iowa fought to keep the game close but could never grab momentum from the Wolverines.

Michigan never trailed in the contest, leading by as much as 16 points in the first half. But the Hawkeyes cut the deficit to nine at halftime, and they came to within five points with around a minute left in the game.

Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter said that while at times his team’s play hasn’t looked pretty, he is proud of the effort.

“This team has fought,” he said. “They’ve competed hard all year, and I’ve always been proud of them for that.”

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The bright spot for the Hawkeyes came in the form of freshman point guard Cully Payne. Before the game, Lickliter told the freshman he would like playing in Conseco Field House.

If Payne likes Carver-Hawkeye Arena as much as he enjoyed playing in Conseco Field House, Hawkeye fans might have something to look forward to. Payne didn’t just like the venue. He loved it.

The Schaumburg, Ill., native had a breakout game, shooting 9-of-16 from the field and knocking down five 3-pointers en route to a career-high 25-point performance.

“Cully played beyond his years today,” Lickliter said.

Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, Payne’s five 3s were the only shots made from beyond the arc. Iowa missed 15 shots from outside the perimeter.

Sophomore Aaron Fuller recorded his sixth double-double of the season and his second this year against Michigan, scoring 10 points and grabbing 13 boards. Fellow sophomore Matt Gatens added seven points for Iowa.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Hawkeyes made a changes, switching between a zone and a press. The new scheme shook up the Wolverines at times, Michigan head coach John Beilein said.

But Iowa still couldn’t contain the Wolverines’ two prolific scorers — Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. The pair combined for 36 of Michigan’s 59 points, with Harris scoring a team-high 22 points.

“When you get to the tournament, it’s nice to mix things up and give people a different look,” junior Jarryd Cole said. “We did, and it ended up being successful for us. But not successful enough.”

As the Hawkeyes close out the third season in the Lickliter era, it’s difficult to figure out where the team goes from here.

Iowa has finished below .500 in all three seasons, has yet to win a game in the Big Ten Tournament, and hasn’t finished better than eighth in the conference in regular-season play.

“It’s pretty embarrassing, and it’s not fun to go through,” Gatens said. “We’ve just got to keep working hard, and use that as motivation, and not let it happen again — turn it around and make it the other way next year, have 20 wins or more. The only way we’re going to get there is if we stick together and keep working hard.”

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