INDIANAPOLIS — Illinois center Meyers Leonard was a handful against Iowa, scoring 18 points for the Fighting Illini.
But Iowa slowed him down in the second half, and the 7-foot-1 sophomore wasn’t quite as imposing for the Hawkeyes in a 64-61 win at the Big Ten Tournament.
Leonard scored his last basket with 10:16 left in the game and Illinois trailing 50-48. He didn’t attempt another shot.
“Meyers, I think he got a little tired,” Illinois Coach Bruce Weber said. “He gets frustrated. He leaves the post. He stands up. And when you add it all together, you don’t get many touches.”
Leonard had 22 points and 14 rebounds in the teams’ first meeting on Feb. 26. Iowa concentrated on stopping Leonard in its preparation for Illinois.
“It was a team effort, but Zach McCabe did a great job,” Iowa sophomore Aaron White said. “It didn’t show up in the stat sheets, which I’ve said numerous times, but he really does make a huge impact on our team with what he does.”
Few people expect Weber to coach the Illini next season. Illinois lost 12 of its final 14 games and nine of its last 10.
But Weber tried to keep the loss in perspective Thursday.
“It’s just like life,” he said afterward. “There’s great moments in life and there’s moments that aren’t so good, and every day you’ve got to approach life with a positive attitude. If you just go in a pity party for yourself, nothing’s going to happen.
“And that’s the whole message I’ve given to our kids this whole time. Sometimes it’s not fair. But what you do about it makes the difference.”
Illinois didn’t shoot a free throw in the game for the first time this season. Weber said it was baffling.
“I didn’t realize it until about midway through the second half, and then I reminded the guys that control that, but it didn’t seem to do any good,” Weber said. “So, you know, we shot … we shoot jump shots. They got to the free-throw line with offensive rebounds and they got it inside a little bit.
“But Meyers gets fouled all the time, and it’s really baffling to me how they can call touch fouls away from the basket and then they can let people beat up big guys. And it’s almost a disadvantage to have a big guy at times, to be honest.”
Iowa junior forward Eric May played six minutes and grabbed one rebound for the Hawkeyes. He’s played sparingly since suffering a back injury in January.
May, who started 21 games this year, said back spasms have led into a strained back muscle. May had played just 46 minutes in Iowa’s last 10 games and missed two.
“It was tough because every movement affected it,” he said. “It took away a lot of what I do. It kind of snowballs into other things. It’s something that you think about. But I’m feeling good now, so I’m ready to go.”
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