The young Iowa basketball team earned another "E" for effort on Sunday. Unfortunately, it was accompanied by another "L."
Rival Illinois shook off the pesky Hawkeyes late in earning a hard-fought 62-54 victory. Iowa's last win in Champaign came during the 1998-99 season, Tom Davis' last as coach. The drought reached eight games on Sunday.
Iowa (12-10 overall) dropped it's third game in a row and sixth in its last seven. The Hawkeyes moved to 2-7 in the Big Ten.
It represented their worst league start since going 2-11 in 1983-84. That team finished 6-12. The '89-90 team opened 2-6 in conference, but won its ninth game before ending up 4-14 in the Big Ten. Iowa has suffered four conference losses by a total of 18 points this season.
"It's getting old," Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter said on his radio postgame. "It's about a block out here, a close out to a shooter. It's about throwing the ball to a teammate. Yeah, we're getting a little bit tired, but we're trying to balance preparation for an opponent, continued preparation on what we need to do because we're young, and then on competing."
Sunday marked the fourth weekend in a row that Iowa has been on the road.
"We played Thursday (at home against Michigan State), we bus over here (on Saturday). We bus back today. We're going to go back on the road Wednesday. We play Saturday. It's demanding," Lickliter said. "You can't work your guys. The game has to be their conditioning. We're not the only one to have this problem. There are other Big Ten schools. But they've got a little bit more depth and they're probably a little bit more mature than we are. We've got an awfully young team to be going through this."
Iowa has reached the half way point of the Big Ten season. They're scheduled to travel to Indiana on Wednesday.
"Well, it's half way, but we haven't played Northwestern yet," Lickliter said. "I'd like to figure out the scheduling. This is our fourth weekend in a row that we're on the road. We're going to play four Sunday, two Sunday mornings. I don't understand it. I'm sure there's a logical reason that they would send somebody on the road four weekends in a row, but I just don't know what it is."
Jeff Peterson (six assists, no turnovers) paced the Hawkeyes with 12 points on Sunday, while teammates Matt Gatens and Jarryd Cole added 10 apiece. Cole scored all of his points before halftime and did not take a shot after the break as he was hampered with four fouls.
"Guys did get a little bit tired, but that shouldn't really be an excuse," Peterson said on the radio postgame. "They're a very good team and it's frustrating because parts of the game you could see that we were really controlling the game, especially in the first half. It was almost like we hit a wall in that second half and weren't able to finish."
Mike Tisdale connected on 7 of 8 shots from the floor, scoring a game-high 18 for Illinois. The home team assisted on 18 of its 23 baskets for the game.
The Illini (18-4, 6-3) manhandled Iowa on the backboards, owning a 35-22 advantage, including 11-4 on the offensive glass. The Hawkeyes went without an offensive rebound until 1:12 remained in the game when Jake Kelly pulled down a Jermain Davis' miss.
Iowa battled hard against the No. 20 team in the country, trailing just 46-45 with 8:48 to play in the game. Then, scoring droughts that has hampered this team during these last two seasons showed their ugly heads again.
The Hawkeyes went 3:21 without a point before Peterson's floater made it 52-47 with just over five minutes to play. After that, Iowa went the next 4:17 without a point. The visitors fought until the end, but could not overcome those dry spells.
Iowa jumped out to a 6-2 lead, but the Illini responded with a 7-0 run. The Hawkeyes hung within several points of the lead for most of the half as Cole proved tough for the home team to handle. The sophomore hit all five of his shots (the rest of the Hawkeyes were a combined 5 of 20) for 10 points to match his season high. He had hit all five of his field goals in his last game.
Cole now has made 11 field goals in a row.
"The reason he's making shots is he's taking shots he can make," Lickliter said. We've got guys that take shots that they can't make. So, it's not going to happen.
"Jarryd has done a great job of rolling. We put David (Palmer) in and we couldn't convince him to roll. He is a pick-and-pop guy, but they were hedging with their bigs. So, we needed them to roll down the lane. When he did, he got to the basket. Jarryd, you don't have to convince that. He does it automatically."
Iowa led 25-22 at the break. Chester Frazier hit a 3-pointer as time ran out that would have tied it, but after review it was ruled to have come after time had expired. The Illini scored just one basket in the final 10 minutes before the intermission.
"We were all playing with confidence," Peterson said of the Hawkeyes' ability to lead the No. 20 team in the country at halftime. "Even if we did make a mistake in that first half, it wasn't like we would get down on ourselves. We would just get back to the other end, get a stop and go back down and score.
"In the second half, we just started getting down on ourselves, from coaches to players, everybody. That can't happen with us."
Lickliter was unhappy with a mental lapse that led to the Frazier shot right before the half.
"We assisted perfectly on that," Lickliter said of the attempt that came after Iowa threw the ball right to him on an out of bounds play. "When you take the ball out of bounds, I'm assuming that you're going to take a look at see that they're back at half court. You can't lob it up. I think that's pretty basic.
"For whatever reason, we lob it up and they run under it. We were fortunate. And even though they took it away, it was a momentum shift. Then we come out in the first few plays of the second half and we throw it away like three out of five times. We relinquished control. We really had control, and we just gave it up."
The challenge for Iowa will be staying together during this tough stretch. Indiana will be fighting hard to get into the win column in conference on Wednesday.
"It's very difficult, but it's something that you have to do," Peterson said. "You almost have to practice staying positive. It starts with me (as the point guard) was well as the coaches and the captains on this team to try to carry it over to the rest of the team.
"We have to stay positive even though it's definitely not going the way that we want it to go. We have a whole month and a half of basketball, hopefully two months, left. If we can stay positive, we're right there. We just have to execute and finish games."