The Hawkeyes were swept by the Fighting Illini this season.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa’s third consecutive loss was the most difficult to digest.
Playing in front of the first sellout crowd of the season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, with a week’s worth of rest, facing an Illinois team that is going nowhere, the Hawkeyes flubbed every chance at a victory Saturday.
The Fighting Illini made the key plays late and pulled out a 70-66 win to silence the crowd of 15,400.
The Iowa senior was hard on himself after a 70-66 loss to Illinois.
It gave Illinois (15-12, 5-9 Big Ten Conference) a season sweep of the Hawkeyes, after a 76-64 win in Champaign last month. And it continued a confounding pattern for Iowa (14-13, 6-8), which lost three in a row, rebounded to win its next three, and now is on a three-game skid again with Indiana coming to town Tuesday.
“We made some plays down the stretch that you just can’t make to win,” said Iowa freshman forward Tyler Cook, who had 14 points Saturday. “Those turnovers and stuff. Shots that we shouldn’t have taken. It all adds up.”
The mistakes came from every corner.
The Hawkeyes led just 29-25 at halftime after committing 11 turnovers in a choppy opening 20 minutes. They cleaned up that area of their game for the first 13 minutes of the second half, going without a miscue and hanging on to a 54-50 lead. Then the carelessness cropped up again, with giveaways by Cordell Pemsl, Brady Ellingson and two costly ones by senior guard Peter Jok helping Illinois turn the game around.
“There were some sloppy plays, starting with me. I had that turnover, which ended up with a layup from that side,” said Jok, who finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and five turnovers to lead Iowa in all four of those categories.
The misery extended to the free-throw line, where the Hawkeyes held a huge advantage, outscoring Illinois 17-7. Still, Jok missed the front end of a one-and-one with 9 minutes, 23 seconds left and the Hawkeyes trailing 50-46. He is a 92 percent shooter from the stripe. Freshman point guard Jordan Bohannon, who entered play shooting 87.5 percent from the line, missed two freebies with 2:14 left and Iowa down 62-61.
Ellingson had a clean look from the 3-point line with 40 seconds left but couldn’t convert. Nicholas Baer saw his open shot from the arc — which could have tied the score at 66 — rattle out with 18 seconds remaining.
A winnable game became an inexplicable defeat.
“It felt good when it came off my hands. I thought it was going to go in,” Baer said of his shot.
Underlying it all was a sluggish effort from Iowa from start to finish. The passing was poor, with only 11 assists on 21 field goals. The second-half defense was porous, as the Illini shot 55 percent after intermission, chewing the Hawkeyes up with 18 points in the paint and another 18 from the 3-point arc. Illinois made five of its final seven shots and won despite converting only 7 of 14 free throws.
“It’s a little uncharacteristic for us,” Baer said of the 15 turnovers against 11 assists, the first time that ratio has been negative since a Jan. 15 loss at Northwestern. “They did a nice job guarding Pete as well. I think we needed to have the ball swing a little bit more, but it’s hard to get assists when you’re turning the ball over, too.”
Illinois got 21 points from senior guard Malcolm Hill to win on the road for only the second time this season. Iowa had won nine of its previous 10 home games.
“You have to compete and you have to make plays. You always have to beat them,” Illinois coach John Groce said after his third consecutive win against Iowa. “They come at you with the press. They come at you with a wave of bodies. They’re always very aggressive.”
Both teams had a week between games, but neither looked particularly crisp. Neither team led by more than eight points.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said he was happy with the shots his offense generated late.
“Nicholas had a great look at it. Brady had a great look at it. Jordan went to the hole at one time and got it blocked, but I thought that was the right play,” McCaffery said. “That's what you're looking for in that situation: Can you execute?
"Can you come down and get a shot, that's good, by a good shooter, relatively quickly? Because you're trying to lengthen the game when you're down four or three.”
Jok’s final 4 minutes summed up the afternoon for Iowa. He committed a turnover while trying to dribble through two Illini that turned into a Hill layup; assisted on a Bohannon 3-pointer; missed a jumpshot; stole the ball and passed to Ellingson for the 3-ball he missed; made a pair of free throws; grabbed the rebound off of Baer’s missed three, but then turned it over with 11 seconds left; missed a 3-pointer with 8 seconds remaining, then made one with 1.2 on the clock.
The bad outweighed the good.
“It’s really frustrating,” Jok said. “We’ve been looking forward to this game since they beat us. We didn’t really play well at their house last time.”
Different house. Same result.