CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Iowa’s 21-point first-half lead was long gone, in an arena that has been a hall of horrors for the Hawkeye basketball program.
Illinois had No. 15 Iowa on the ropes. But the Hawkeyes dug deep down the stretch, finished the game with a 15-4 run and got a much-needed 81-74 Big Ten victory Saturday at the State Farm Center.
The Illini had a five-point lead and possession of the ball during a timeout with 8 minutes 7 seconds remaining. But the Iowa huddle had life.
“The first thing Aaron White said was, ‘OK, guys, we’ve got plenty of time. Let’s go,’ ” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “I knew he was mentally ready to go.”
Illinois, who had turned a 34-13 deficit into that five-point lead by scoring on 24 out of 29 possessions over both halves, failed to score out of the timeout. Then Iowa’s Devyn Marble made a 3 in transition.
“Now, it’s a race to the finish,” McCaffery said. “Who is going to execute? Who is going to rebound? Who is going to get second shots when you need it? We did all of those.”
And Iowa, 6-3 in the Big Ten and 17-5 overall, snapped an 11-game losing streak in this building. This was just the Hawkeyes’ second victory here since 1987, five years before Marble was born.
“We’re getting too old to blow 20-point leads,” Marble said.
No play was bigger than Marble’s steal and conventional three-point play that gave the Hawkeyes a 76-72 lead with 1:39 remaining.
Another huge play was an offensive rebound that Gabe Olaseni tracked down with 45 seconds to play that led to two Marble free throws, furthering a two-possession lead at 78-72.
“I had to fight off one or two guys, but it was a play we definitely needed,” Olaseni said.
The junior center finished the game with 15 points and 12 rebounds, both career-highs. Six of his rebounds were on the offensive glass, helping Iowa to a 20-6 edge in second-chance points.
“The thing about this team is it could be anyone on any given night,” said Olaseni, who blocked seven shots in a game against Illinois last season. “I’m just thankful for the win. In terms of the plays I made, I was just trying to stay active running the floor and getting offensive rebounds.”
White added 14 points, and the toughness that McCaffery questioned in Tuesday’s overtime loss to No. 7 Michigan State was there down the stretch Saturday.
“That’s one of the worst things you can be called as a basketball player,” White said. “We had to bear down and play to the caliber we’re capable of.”
Iowa’s bench outscored Illinois 32-15.
“They come at you in waves,” said Illinois coach John Groce, whose team lost a seventh straight game and is now 2-7 in the Big Ten and 13-9 overall.
Illinois, 11th in the Big Ten in scoring at 61.5 points entering the game, found itself in a 21-point hole with 7:34 to go in the first half. And then the Illini got off the canvas.
Illinois scored on 10 of its next 12 possessions to cut the halftime deficit to 40-36. Illinois passed its season average with 10:17 remaining when Tracy Abrams scored for a 62-61 lead. Joseph Bertrand, who scored a team-high 20 points, and former Drake standout Rayvonte Rice, who finished with 13, also scored to make it 66-61.
That’s when there was a timeout, and White spoke up.
“We had to get stops,” White remembered saying. “There is no other answer. Get a couple of stops, and the offense will come.”
Iowa scored points on eight of its final nine possessions. Illinois didn’t make a field goal and scored just eight points the last 9 minutes.
“To be honest, last year I don’t think we would have pulled this one out,” point guard Mike Gesell said of Iowa’s third Big Ten road win of the season. “I think it shows how much we’ve grown as a team. And we really did show some toughness.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball