Takeaways from No. 18 Iowa's come-from-behind win over No. 19 Illinois

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — It was another Big Ten Conference home game for Iowa, and so of course that required a second-half rally.

This is how the Hawkeyes script their wins these days, and everyone played their roles to perfection during Sunday’s 72-65 victory over Illinois before a soldout crowd of 15,056 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

No. 18 Iowa (16-6, 7-4 Big Ten) used a late 17-3 scoring burst to put away No. 19 Illinois (16-6, 8-3), which is tied for first in the league with Michigan State.

The Fighting Illini had won seven in a row.

Iowa has won 10 straight at home. This was the best of them all.

And it started with Iowa coach Fran McCaffery blistering one of his star players for a lack of effort. The score was tied 50-50 when there was a media timeout with 7 minutes, 30 seconds left.

McCaffery went straight at sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp.

“He jumped me actually a little bit,” Wieskamp said afterward. “I had kind of died on a ball screen. (Andres) Feliz got through and made a little floater. So he kind of jumped me, saying, ‘You can’t die on that ball screen. You’ve got to get through that. You’ve got to be tougher.’

“And I think I took that well. I think everyone around us took that well, and we responded to it.”

Wieskamp scored Iowa’s next five points. Illinois made just four of its final 13 shot attempts. Iowa pulled within a game of the Illini in the league standings.

Iowa has trailed in the second half of each of its past four Big Ten home games.

Against Michigan, the Hawkeyes took the lead for good with 5:28 to go. Against Rutgers, it was with 2:16 left. Last Monday vs. Wisconsin, Iowa waited until 1:20 remained to pull away.

On Sunday, Iowa went ahead on a Connor McCaffery baseline 3-pointer with 3:33 left and never trailed again.

It’s not the most comfortable pattern for the players or the fans. But it does show the mental fortitude of this group.

“We’d like to have some easy ones,” Iowa center Luka Garza said after scoring 25 points. “But you’re not going to have easy ones in the Big Ten.”

Iowa center Luka Garza (55) celebrates after making a 3-point basket during a NCAA Big Ten Conference men's basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Garza recalled looking at his team during a timeout with 3:17 left. Iowa led 64-62 on that McCaffery 3, but things were far from settled.

Except in Garza’s mind.

The players on the bench were telling the Hawkeyes on the court that they needed to toughen up.

“I was kind of sitting there and I knew that we were going to win this game,” Garza said of that moment.

He even told guard CJ Fredrick what was going to happen on Iowa’s next possession.

You’re going to make a pullup jumpshot, Garza said to Fredrick, because Illinois center Kofi Cockburn was going to be playing back in the paint.

That’s exactly what happened. Fredrick and Wieskamp finished with 18 points apiece.

Illinois was finished.

“Coming down the stretch, to beat a team of this caliber, you’ve got to execute,” Fran McCaffery said. “And execution is at both ends of the floor.”

Luka Garza becomes a triple machine, at least for one game

Garza had another hunch Sunday that proved true. He expected to have more opportunities at the 3-point line, and he took a career-high nine of them, making four, also a career-high.

And that includes high school, Garza pointed out afterward.

“Luka can shoot 18 3s if he wants to,” Fran McCaffery deadpanned when asked about his 6-foot-11 post player suddenly turning into Jordan Bohannon.

But there was a simple explanation, Garza said.

“We knew Kofi was going to be a little bit farther back on our guards on the ball screen. And we knew they would allow me some time to shoot the ball,” Garza said. “And I think with a guy that’s that strong (Cockburn is 7-foot, 290 pounds), I can’t really battle with him every time down and try to score over him. I’ve got to be able to stretch it out and make him play me on the 3-point line.”

Garza has full confidence in his outside shot this season. He is 26-for-68 from the 3-point arc.

He missed one with 1:26 to go Sunday and Iowa ahead just 66-62.

No big deal. He simply stepped to the top of the key and made his next one, pushing the Hawkeye lead to 69-62 with 38 seconds left. It essentially sealed the win.

Garza moved past Bohannon and Tyler Cook for 20th all-time in Iowa career scoring.

And Garza wasn’t entirely satisfied.

“I felt like I could have hit all nine of them,” he said of his 3-pointers.

Big Ten is big grind, and Hawkeyes are loving it

Iowa is 6-0 at home in Big Ten play, and a perfection is certainly attainable. Sunday’s game was the most challenging on the schedule. Up next are Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State and Purdue.

But it’s also clear that there are no easy nights in this league this winter. And the Hawkeye players say they love that challenge.

“You want to play teams like that,” Garza said.

Wieskamp said the Hawkeyes are learning valuable lessons from being in tight games, from having to come from behind so often. The payoff will come in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, he believes.

“We’d rather beat every team by 15, 20,” he said.

“(But) you have to know how to handle those different late-game situations."

Wieskamp said he had an important takeaway from his coach calling him out late in Sunday’s game.

“To realize how important this game is. It’s a fight through every screen. Whether it’s getting over or getting under,” he said.

“Just competing. Turning it up a notch. Giving everything I have.”

Iowa next plays at Purdue on Wednesday.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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