IOWA CITY, Ia. – Jon Ekey’s last-second flick of the wrist was the ultimate slap in the face for Iowa’s basketball team
“One has never actually fallen for me at the end of a game before,” the senior said after his 3-pointer from the left wing, over Aaron White’s outstretched arm, swished with less than a second remaining and gave Illinois a 66-63 victory over the 24th-ranked Hawkeyes on Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“He (White) contested it pretty hard, and he (Ekey) made a pretty tough shot,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.
Iowa had tied the game on Gabe Olaseni’s rebound basket with :41 to go. There was a 5-second differential between the game clock and shot clock, but Mike Gesell was called for a foul on Tracy Abrams with :13.8 left. That gave the Illini the last possession of regulation.
Iowa thought Abrams would take advantage of a screen that was set for him in the final seconds, but he didn’t. Instead, he kicked it out to Ekey.
“I thought I was there,” White said.
Ekey, who had made four of his previous 18 3-pointers over the last six games, was 3-for-4 Saturday and scored 12 points. It was just the fourth time he reached double figures in Big Ten play, and the first time since Jan. 23.
“I thought Tracy showed great poise,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “He didn’t panic. And then Jon hit a tough shot.”
On the flip side, Iowa’s Devyn Marble finished with just eight points. It was the first time that Marble, the Big Ten’s leading scorer who had notched 20 or more points in each of the last five games, didn’t reach double figures in a conference game this season.
The loss was Iowa’s fifth loss in six games. The Hawkeyes ended the regular season 20-11 overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten. That is the same league record the Hawkeyes had last season.
Iowa will be either the fifth or sixth seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, Ind., and play on Thursday. The Hawkeyes won’t know their opponent until the regular-season schedule is completed today.
“I think we’re a little fragile, I think that’s safe to say,” McCaffery said.
Iowa had not lost back-to-back games until consecutive losses to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Indiana. Now the Hawkeyes are headed in the opposite direction.
“We’ve got to regroup,” White said. “We’ve got nowhere to go but up.”
White led Iowa with 12 points. Adam Woodbury and Gesell had 11 each. Rayvonte Rice, the former Drake player, led the Illini with 15 points. Nnanna Egwu added 14.
Illinois, bouncing back from a 31-point drubbing at home Tuesday to Michigan, won for the fourth time in five games to finish the regular season 18-13 overall and 7-11 in Big Ten play.
The Illini made 2-of-18 3-pointers against the Wolverines. They made 7-of-19 Saturday.
Illinois won the game by controlling tempo, and slowing down an Iowa team that leads the Big Ten in scoring at 79.2 points in league games. The 63 points were Iowa’s lowest during the Big Ten season.
The Hawkeyes scored just two fast-break points and struggled to score against the Illini in the half court.
Iowa got off to a miserable start. Illinois scored on eight of its first 10 possessions and stunned the crowd by bolting out to a 20-6 lead.
“I think the game was lost right there,” McCaffery said.
Iowa rallied for a 34-29 halftime lead, and had a 54-48 lead with 11:17 to play. But Illinois went on an 11-0 run to reverse momentum again.
And then Ekey delivered the final blow.