CHICAGO — Make that two years in a row Iowa has bounced Illinois from the conference tournament.
The Illini (12-21, 7-14) couldn’t keep up, falling to the Hawkeyes 83-62 on Thursday night at the United Center in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
“Iowa was terrific tonight,” said Illinois Head Coach Brad Underwood. “They were the better basketball team. They’re a tough matchup for us. We did some good things in the first half, but turned it over too many times.”
With a shot at the Big Ten Quarterfinals on the line, the Illini had to put together a better product than the one they showcased against Northwestern on Wednesday evening. Iowa (22-10, 11-10) has had Illinois’ number the past few years, winning three straight over the Illini, including bouncing them from the conference tournament last season in a high-scoring affair. Unfortunately for the Illini, that streak moved to four straight games.
Both Illinois and Northwestern to struggled to put the ball in the hoop last night. That wasn’t an issue on Thursday evening as both Illinois and Iowa went on 11-0 runs in the first half. The two teams combined to start 9-of-13 from behind the arc, and it looked like the United Center was in for a treat. But as the pace of the game began to wear on the two squads, the turnovers started to accumulate and the shots that fell in the first ten minutes began to clank in and out. Still, a balanced Iowa scoring attack gave the Hawkeyes a slight 37-31 advantage heading in to the break.
The Illini struggled out of the gate in the second half, giving up baskets on four of their first five possessions and committing another five fouls on top of that in the first minute and a half of the second frame.
Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes dominated the final 20 minutes, continuing their three-point barrage (12-of-23), and forcing the Illini into silly turnovers (15). With Illinois content in trading deep balls with Iowa, the Hawkeyes continued to build on their lead until it surpassed 20 points and they found themselves in the midst of a blowout. The Illini never found an answer for Iowa’s explosion from deep as they were blown out, 83-62.
“Iowa is a smart team,” said Illinois freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili. “They make you pay every time. You saw that, obviously.”
As for next year, the Illini are ready to get back in the gym.
“A lot of work has to be done in the offseason,” Bezhanishvili said. “There are a lot of goals.”
Underwood echoed his big man in the postgame:
“Tonight was the ending. I loved coaching this team each and every day. This is the beginning of bringing Illinois basketball back... The best thing that we get to do is have an offseason... I’m proud. We had a great year. We played a difficult schedule. Heading in to the offseason with this group is something that excites me a great deal.”
- Joe Wieskamp (seven rebounds), Tyler Cook (five rebounds, six assists), Ryan Kreiner (three rebounds) and Nicholas Baer (5-of-6 from three) all finished in double-figures for the Hawkeyes, contributing 13, 12, 11, and 17, respectively.
- The Illini were led by Giorgi Bezhanishvili (12 points, six rebounds), Tevian Jones (11 points, 3-of-5 from three), and Ayo Dosunmu (10 points, six assists).
Illinois is up to five fouls in the first 1:36 of the second half...— Tristen Kissack (@TKissack20) March 15, 2019
TWEET OF THE GAME
Heading to the United Center to watch the Illini season end in person because self-care is overrated— Matty (@matt1all) March 14, 2019
That’s it. It’s over.