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Iowa men's basketball loses series-high seventh straight game to Illinois, 65-54

BY BEN SCHUFF | FEBRUARY 27, 2012 6:30 AM

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Iowa's road woes continue.

The Hawkeyes (15-14, 7-9 Big Ten) lost their sixth-consecutive road contest on Sunday, falling to Illinois (17-12, 6-10), 65-54, in Assembly Hall.

Iowa's loss to the Fighting Illini — which had lost six straight and nine of their last 10 — came on the heels of beating two ranked Big Ten opponents last week.

"The thing with this game was we just didn't play well all around," forward Aaron White said. "We played hard enough, we just didn't play well. We couldn't make our shots; we didn't play smart and turned [the ball] over."

Iowa got off to a fast 5-0 lead in the first minute and a half of action. Guard Devyn Marble drained a jump shot on the game's opening possession, and fellow guard Matt Gatens converted a 3-point play on the ensuing possession.

But Illinois took over from there on, going on a 13-0 run during the next six and a half minutes. The Illini led by 8 to 10 points for most of the first half after securing the lead, thanks in part to a 46 percent shooting effort before halftime.

The Hawkeyes struggled to stop Illinois center Meyers Leonard for all 36 minutes he played on Sunday, particularly in the first half. The 7-1 sophomore scored 15 of his team-high 22 point in the stanza. Leonard made his biggest impact against the Hawkeyes in the paint by snagging a game-high 14 rebounds — 6 of which came off the offensive glass.

Leonard, who came off the bench for the first time since Illinois' season-opener, said not starting "[lit] a fire under me." Both he and Illinois leading scorer Brandon Paul were held out of head coach Bruce Weber's starting lineup because of, as Leonard said, "competitive practices" leading up to the Iowa game. Leonard said he and Paul "weren't at the top of the charts" in terms of wins and losses during those practices.

"He's a force down there," Gatens said. "He didn't start, but we knew he'd get in there. He played 36 minutes, so it was just like he started … I thought our guys did a better job in the second half being physical with him and fronting him a little more, but he had a big game."

Gatens tried to keep Iowa within striking distance by matching Leonard point-for-point before halftime. The senior poured in 15 points of his own before the break and made all four of his 3-point attempts.

He ended the game with 22 points while connecting on 5-of-6 shots from the perimeter. Gatens has now made 19 of his last 26 3-point attempts (73 percent) in Iowa's last three games.

But everyone besides Gatens struggled mightily for Iowa in the first half, going 3-for-20. Marble said the team's lack of offensive flow could be attributed both to Illinois' defense and Iowa's self-inflicted errors.

"We had our fast-break opportunities in the first half that we just didn't capitalize on," Gatens said. "There are four or five that stick out in my mind, and that's why they got that [13-5] after we went up 5-0 … We're a team that lives off of that, so that was difficult for us."

Iowa opened the second half on a 7-2 run and eventually cut Illinois' lead to 4 points at 38-34 with 13:49 to play. But a dunk from Illini guard D.J. Richardson and a 3-pointer from Paul pushed the lead back up to 9, where it stayed for a majority of the second half.

"Everybody stuck together," Paul said. "[The Hawkeyes] made their runs and kept pushing back, fighting back, so that really helped us."


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