Cold shooting night plagues Iowa in a 74-72 road loss against Illinois
Iowa and Illinois men's basketball never lack for motivation whenever they meet, but Sunday night provided extra incentive for both teams. A Rutgers victory over Penn State earlier in the day meant Iowa had to win to clinch a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament. For Illinois, a win would mean a share of the Big Ten regular season title after Nebraska's shocking upset over Wisconsin just before tip off.
In a highly spirited and contested contest, Illinois pulled away late to clinch the title. The Illini defeated the Hawkeyes, 74-72. With the win, Illinois improved to 22-8 overall and 15-5 in conference play while Iowa fell to 22-9 overall and 12-8 in the Big Ten.
For the conference tournament that means Illinois will be the No. 1 overall seed and Iowa will enter the tournament as the No. 5 seed.
The opening minutes of the game were defined by poor offense on both sides. Iowa began the game shooting 3-9 from the field while Illinois was even worse at 2-10, but an early +5 rebounding advantage prevented even more Iowa shot attempts.
Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon picked up second foul in the opening minutes which kept him on the bench until the final seconds of the first half. With the majority of their starting lineup struggling, including Keegan Murray, Iowa turned to their bench for a spark. And they delivered.
The Hawkeye bench accounted for 19 of the team's 43 first half points. Kris Murray led the way with seven points and three rebounds and Joe Toussaint paced the offense with five points and three assists in Bohannon's place.
The Iowa offense picked up steam after a slow start and led by as many as 15 points. After that 3-9 start (33%), they finished 14-24 (58%) and held a 43-37 lead at half, withstanding a furious 9-0 Illinois run to end the half.
Illinois carried that momentum into the second half, claiming a 48-47 lead in the opening minutes while limiting Iowa to a 1-8 start. Despite Keegan Murray continuing to struggle and zero points from Bohannon, the Hawkeyes held serve and led by four points at the under eight minute mark.
But down the stretch, Illinois made just a few more baskets than Iowa. From the eight minute mark until three minutes, Iowa only managed one basket. For the second half, Iowa shot only 36% from the field and 37.5% from the free throw line, compared to a 46/78% shooting split for Illinois.
Down 73-71 with 16 seconds remaining, Keegan Murray had three free throw attempts but only made one. Illinois hit one more key free throw in the final seconds and stopped Iowa one last time for the win.
Iowa rebounded much better than their first encounter, only a -3 deficit but an uncharacteristically bad shooting night especially from Keegan Murray (7-22) was too much to overcome on the road.
Despite the loss, the Hawkeyes still enter the postseason with good momentum, and much like after their loss to Michigan, a sour taste in their mouth.
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.