INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Matt Gatens scored 20 points to help Iowa defeat Illinois 64-61 Thursday in the first round of the Big Ten tournament in what might have been the final game for Illini coach Bruce Weber.
Speculation has been that Weber would be fired after the season. The Illini closed the regular season having lost eight of nine, with their only win coming against Iowa.
Illinois nearly saved Weber for at least another day - D.J. Richardson missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds that would have tied the score.
Meyers Leonard had 18 points and six rebounds and Richardson and Joseph Bertrand added 11 points each for Illinois (17-15). Brandon Paul, Illinois' top scorer, finished with four points on 2-for-11 shooting and committed seven turnovers.
Aaron White had 13 points and nine rebounds for eighth-seeded Iowa (17-15), which has won four of its last six and will play No. 1 seed Michigan State on Friday.
Iowa trailed by four at halftime, but outrebounded the much bigger Illini 27-17 after the break.
Illinois shot well early and jumped to a 24-19 lead. Richardson's 3-pointer as time expired in the first half gave the Fighting Illini a 31-27 lead at the break.
Leonard scored 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting in the first half, helping Illinois shoot 50 percent in the first 20 minutes. Gatens scored nine points in the first half for Iowa.
A layup by Richardson pushed Illinois' lead to 40-33 and prompte the Hawkeyes to call time out.
Just as Illinois appeared ready to create some space after a nice baseline drive and baby hook shot by Leonard pushed its lead to 44-37, Iowa quickly recovered. A 3-pointer by Gatens, then a steal and dunk by Gatens cut Illinois' led to two. Melsahn Basabe's dunk with just over 12 minutes left tied the score, and then a put-back by White gave Iowa a 48-46 lead.
Iowa stretched the advantage to 57-50 on a jumper by Gatens, and the Hawkeyes remained ahead into the final minute.
Iowa led 60-56, and Illinois had the ball. But Paul threw the ball right to Iowa's Roy Devyn Marble on the inbounds pass. Marble was fouled but missed the free throw. But White, playing with four fouls, grabbed the rebound. Gatens was fouled with 37.6 seconds left, and he made both free throws to put Iowa up 62-56.
Bertrand drained a 3-pointer to cut Iowa's lead to 62-61 with 16.1 seconds left.
But Gatens made two more free throws to set up Illinois' final possession.