The Fighting Illini Men’s basketball team may be the second lowest seed in the Big Ten, but the team got to be the first to step onto the historic Madison Square Garden Court to tip-off the Big Ten Tournament.
Coming off the teams 75-62 victory against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Illinois was then assigned an Iowa Hawkeyes team who beat them in OT earlier this season.
Both teams sat with only four Big Ten wins coming into the game, facing plenty of struggles as the season stretched on. As the game got underway in a practically empty MSG, the two teams had trouble finding the bottom of the net. Hawkeyes Forward Isaiah Moss picked up two quick fouls in the first two minutes of the game, starting off what would be a first half full of fouls for both teams.
The Hawkeyes were able to lock-in on offense first going on a 13-0 run, putting them up 17-5 with 12:38 to go. Aaron Jordan put an end to the Illini scoring drought with a three point make at the buzzer.
The Fighting Illini battled back to cut the lead to a 28-26 Iowa advantage on a Te’Jon Lucas three pointer with 2:57 to go.
Illinois kept it close as halftime rolled around, heading into the locker room only down four.
In the first half a season-long dedication to turning over the ball was no different for the Illini, as the team forced the Hawkeyes to commit 11 total turnovers.
Although, a 35-31 Hawkeyes lead heading into the second half grew quickly. Strong play by center Luke Garza helped give Iowa their biggest lead of the night at 57-44.
Once again, the Fighting Illini battled back thanks to seven straight points out of Kipper Nichols but a big offensive rebound from Hawkeyes Ahmad Wagner set up a wide open look for Jordan Bohannon, who knocked down his fourth three of the game to stretch the Iowa lead to seven.
Illinois couldn’t find enough consistency on the offensive end and had a hard time keeping Iowa away from the basket without fouling. The Hawkeyes went 34-41 from the line to the Illini’s 9-12.
Jordan Bohannon continued his strong play for Iowa, shooting lights out behind the arc (5-7) and finished the game with 25 total points.
Kipper Nichols led the Illini in scoring with a career-high 31 points, but the team didn’t have enough to climb back in it with the foul trouble of Leron Black and Trent Frazier keeping them off the court for some valuable minutes.
Iowa walked away with the 96-87 win in a physical game and the team’s first win in the Big Ten Tournament since 2013. The Hawkeyes will move on to face Michigan tomorrow afternoon.
As for the Illini, the first season under new Head Coach Brad Underwood comes to an end with a 14-18 (4-14) record.