GAME NOTES: After suffering through losses in four of their past five games, the 24th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes will try and cap off their season with a victory, but they'll have to go through the Illinois Fighting Illini to do it in a Big Ten Conference battle at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Illinois is coming off an embarrassing 84-53 loss to 12th-ranked Michigan on Tuesday, which ended a three-game win streak. Illinois' contest against Iowa represents the third straight game in which the Illini will battle a Top 25 opponent.
Iowa started the season by dominating non-conference competition, but has undergone multiple struggles in conference action this year. The Hawkeyes have dropped four of their last five games, including an 86-76 setback against 22nd-ranked Michigan State Thursday night. The Hawkeyes are 9-8 in the conference standings headed into their regular-season finale.
Illinois holds the lead in the all-time series with Iowa, 81-69. The two teams met head-to-head back on Feb. 1 of this season, which the Hawkeyes won, 81-74, at Illinois.
Michigan dominated Illinois by using two different means in each separate half on Tuesday. The Wolverines used an offensive explosion in the first half to score 52 points and take a 52-30 lead over Illinois as the teams headed into the intermission. Then Michigan used an unforgiving defense to hold the Illini to just 25 percent shooting in the second half as the Wolverines closed out the rout. Rayvonte Rice scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead Illinois, while Kendrick Nunn netted 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the floor. The Illini missed all 10 of their 3-point tries in the second period.
Rice topped the Illinois squad in scoring this season with a 15.8 ppg average, connecting on 41.8 percent of his shots from the field in 30 games played. His well-rounded stat line helped the team stay afloat, as Rice averaged a team- leading 6.1 rpg, had 48 assists on the year and recorded a team-high 46 steals. Tracy Abrams was the only other Illinois player to average a double- digit scoring total this season, netting 10.6 ppg with a team-best 96 assists on the year. The Fighting Illini had a tough time contesting with some of the better scoring teams in the conference after averaging 64.7 ppg as a unit.
Iowa went into the half on Thursday night leading Michigan State by a 41-39 margin. But the Spartans didn't stay down for long, as they outscored the Hawkeyes by 12 points in the second half en route to the 10-point victory. Roy Devyn Marble topped Iowa with 24 points in the contest, adding five assists and a perfect 4-of-4 mark from the free-throw line. Aaron White chipped in 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the floor. The Hawkeyes shot 46.7 percent from the field in the loss.
Marble has been a solid performer for the Hawkeyes on the year, netting 17.3 ppg to top the team, adding a team-best 105 assists and 55 steals to his resume. White, the only other Hawkeyes player to net a double-digit point average on the season, chips in with 13.3 ppg and a team-best 6.7 rpg average. Even though Iowa has just two players with a double-digit scoring average, the Hawkeyes have still produced 83.3 ppg through 30 games played. They also hold their opponents to just 70.3 ppg.
The matchup between the sides earlier this season is a clear indicator which one is the better squad. Iowa has the scoring ability to take down most conference opponents, and can limit their competition on the defensive end. As long as Iowa executes, it should be able to head into postseason play with a regular-season finale win under its belt.
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