Illinois ends drought with victory against Iowa

The losing streak for the Illinois men’s basketball team is over.

Illinois defeated Iowa 65-54 Sunday at the Assembly Hall after losing the previous six games by an average of 13.3 points per contest.

“That’s what we are, and that’s what we should have been, but we forgot about it,” head coach Bruce Weber said.

“No one’s going to give it to you, no one cares, no one feels sorry for you,” he added. “We challenged them and they responded.”

The Illini defense stymied the Hawkeyes from start to finish, holding them to just 36.7 percent shooting after allowing at least 45 percent shooting in each game during the streak. Illinois (17-12, 6-10 Big Ten) also forced 17 turnovers on the night and made the most of them by scoring 20 points off of them.

Sophomore center Meyers Leonard led the Illini with 22 points and 14 rebounds, including six offensive in the game to help him get his eighth double-double of his career.

“I got two quick blocks (and) a couple rebounds, and that really got me going,” Leonard said. “Then my teammates started to find me in the first half and then throughout the game.”

Junior Brandon Paul scored 17 points, while fellow junior D.J. Richardson added 12.

Leonard and Paul each came off the bench for the Illini, as they did not fare as well in competitive drills in practice; Joseph Bertrand, Nnanna Egwu and Tyler Griffey all started.

Paul said coming off the bench helped push him and Leonard to play harder in the game.

“It just makes us want to come out and compete even more,” Paul said. “At the end of the day we’ve got to win, and we came in with a lot of energy and everybody stuck together. They made they’re runs but we kept pushing back, fighting back.”

After getting out to a 6-5 lead, Illinois went on a 14-5 run to open up a comfortable lead 10 and a half minutes into the game before eventually leading 34-23 at halftime.

Iowa made it interesting, however, by going on a 11-4 run of its own to cut the lead to four early in the second half.

A 3-pointer by Richardson would hand the momentum back to Illinois for good as Iowa could only pull to within six points for the rest of the game before losing by 11.

Matt Gatens led the Hawkeyes with 22 points on the day thanks to 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point range but made just one field goal in the second half.

“He doesn’t want to lose and they jump on his back,” Weber said of Gatens. “We talked to our guys about it and that’s why he’s playing so good and that’s why they’ve had a little run.”

Devyn Marble, Iowa’s second leading scorer on the season, finished with 10 points but added six turnovers.

Turnovers were a problem for both teams as the Illini had 18 of their own, including a team-high four by Paul. Iowa converted them for 13 points.

Illinois moved up to ninth place in the conference standings after picking up the win with two games remaining in the regular season. It is currently a game back of both Northwestern and Iowa, which are both 7-9 against Big Ten competition on the season.