Illinois Ends 6-game Skid with 65-54 Win over Iowa

Illinois' Tracy Abrams (13) drives the baseline as Iowa's Josh Oglesby (2) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Champaign, Ill., Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Robert K. O'Daniell)

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By KCRG Sports

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Meyers Leonard and Brandon Paul delivered a combined 39 points off the bench to help Illinois end a six-game losing streak in a 65-54 win over Iowa on Sunday night.

Leonard tied a career-high with 22 points — 15 of them in the first half — and had a game-high 14 rebounds. Paul scored 17 and made three 3-pointers.

The Illini (17-12, 6-10 Big Ten) hadn't won in February and had lost nine of 10 since defeating Ohio State in early January.

Over that stretch, they dropped from first place in the conference, landing near the back of the pack. Along the way, they endured a blowout loss at last-place Nebraska.

Matt Gatens powered the Hawkeyes (15-14, 7-9) with 22 points and 5 of 6 shooting from 3-point range.

Gatens averaged 31.5 points in the Hawkeyes' previous two games, both wins over ranked teams, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Illinois led 34-23 at the break and weathered a Hawkeye run that closed the gap to four early in the second half.

Aaron White's long jump shot with 13:49 remaining made the score 38-34 and muted a crowd that seemed nervous it might be watching another game slip away.

More nerve-racking might have been Leonard's slow start to the half.

He went more than 10 minutes without scoring, struggling against 6-foot-7 Melsahn Basabe — 6 inches shorter than the 7-1 Leonard — and all but invisible to teammates looking to feed their center.

Leonard's struggles let Iowa stay close.

But Leonard hit layups on back-to-back possessions that, with 8:38 left, put Illinois up 47-38.

The Hawkeyes closed to within seven twice in the last six minutes, but each time, Paul answered with a 3-pointer.

Looking for some way to break the losing streak, Illinois coach Bruce Weber based his starting lineup on a series of competitions during practices after Tuesday's loss at Ohio State. That left both Leonard and Paul on the bench.

Leonard subbed in just over four minutes into the game with the Illini down 5-2.

His teammates figured out pretty quickly that, with a minimum 4-inch height edge on anyone the Hawkeyes put on the court, getting the ball to Leonard made sense.

By halftime, he had 15 points, seven rebounds and a perfect 7 of 7 start from the free-throw line.

Once Leonard entered, the Illini went on a 13-0 run. Leonard capped the surge with a dunk with 12:01 left in the half.

At one point, Paul fed Leonard as he stood wedged between three much-shorter defenders under the basket. The center turned what looked like a foolish pass into a bucket and, with the foul he drew, a three-point play for a 25-24 lead with 5:05 left in the half.

Four minutes later, Leonard turned another bad pass into a good finish.

Sam Maniscalco fired up a pass that baldy missed Leonard as he flew toward the basket for a would-be dunk. Leonard reached to his left, controlled the ball on the fly and dropped in in for a bucket that gave the Illini a 34-23 edge they took to the locker room.

Gatens' first half — 15 points and 4 of 4 3-point shooting — kept the Hawkeyes in the game.

But a mixture of mainly Paul and Richardson kept him in check in the second half. He hit just one of his four second-half shots, a 3-pointer.

Roy Devyn Marble added 10 points for Iowa.

The win keeps Illinois' postseason hopes alive as it gets ready to host No. 11 Michigan Thursday before closing the regular season at Wisconsin.

The Hawkeyes travel to Nebraska Wednesday before wrapping up the regular season at Northwestern.

IOWA (15-14)

McCabe 1-5 2-2 4, White 3-6 2-3 8, Oglesby 4-10 0-0 9, Marble 4-9 2-2 10, Gatens 6-11 5-7 22, Olaseni 0-0 0-0 0, Basabe 0-4 1-2 1, Brommer 0-0 0-0 0, Cartwright 0-3 0-0 0, May 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-49 12-16 54.

ILLINOIS (17-12)

Griffey 1-6 0-0 2, Egwu 1-1 0-0 2, Richardson 4-12 2-2 12, Bertrand 1-3 0-0 2, Abrams 1-6 1-2 3, Maniscalco 2-2 0-0 5, Paul 5-9 4-5 17, Leonard 7-13 8-8 22, Henry 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-52 15-17 65.

Halftime_Illinois 34-23. 3-Point Goals_Iowa 6-17 (Gatens 5-6, Oglesby 1-5, White 0-1, May 0-1, Cartwright 0-1, Marble 0-1, McCabe 0-2), Illinois 6-18 (Paul 3-5, Richardson 2-8, Maniscalco 1-1, Bertrand 0-1, Abrams 0-1, Griffey 0-2). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Iowa 27 (McCabe 7), Illinois 35 (Leonard 14). Assists_Iowa 12 (Marble 6), Illinois 12 (Maniscalco 4). Total Fouls_Iowa 17, Illinois 14. A_16,322.
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