Thursday, March 8, 2012

Iowa holds off Illinois, will face MSU next

Despite not making a field goal in the final 9:16, Iowa was able to survive a late rally by Illinois for a 64-61 win in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. The eighth-seeded Hawkeyes will face top-seeded MSU on Friday at noon.

Ninth-seeded Illinois entered Thursday having lost 11 of its last 13 games, but the Illini's only win since the beginning of February was against Iowa.

The first half was back-and-forth, with the teams within one or two baskets of each other the entire time. The Illini led 31-27 at halftime. A few minutes into the second half, Illinois extended its lead to 40-33 and looked like it was starting to pull away. But Iowa answered with a 22-8 run to take a 55-48 lead. The teams then traded buckets, and Iowa didn't score another field goal for the rest of the game.

The Hawkeyes went cold, but Illinois could only muster a few buckets. The Hawkeyes started missing some free throws, keeping the Illini around. Joseph Bertrand made a tough three-pointer with 20 seconds left to make it a one-point game. Matt Gatens made two free throws and Illinois' last shot was off. It may have been Bruce Weber's last game as Illinois coach.

Gatens scored 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Bryce Cartwright had seven assists to no turnovers running the point for the Hawkeyes.

So Iowa faces MSU on Friday at noon. These teams met once in the regular season, with the Spartans cruising to a 95-61 victory in East Lansing — one of MSU's most-lopsided wins in Big Ten history. The Spartans shot 61.7 percent, while Iowa shot 36.7 percent. MSU will be without Branden Dawson, who tore his ACL in the final regular season game, but Dawson wasn't a major part of the first win, scoring six points and grabbing four rebounds in 21 minutes.

MSU might have some early struggles playing without Dawson, but I don't see enough scoring threats for Iowa to make this a tough one for the Spartans.

Prediction: MSU 75, Iowa 63

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