IOWA CITY, Iowa — The No. 19 Illinois Fighting Illini entered the month of February alone atop the Big Ten standings.
Thanks to Wisconsin defeating Michigan State on Saturday, Illinois had the opportunity to be in first place by ONE WHOLE GAME by beating the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City.
Easier said than done.
Head coach Brad Underwood entered Sunday’s game 0-4 all-time against Iowa, including a pair of blowouts last season (95-71 in Iowa City, 83-62 in the Big Ten Tournament), but he will have to wait until Mar. 8 before he gets another chance. Illinois fell to the Hawkeyes, 72-65, in Iowa City for its first lost in a month and now share the No. 1 spot in the Big Ten with Michigan State.
Both squads got off to slow starts in a sloppy first half, but Andres Feliz was able to quiet the raucous home crowd with a four-point play just before the second media timeout of the opening 20 minutes.
Most notable, though, was that both bigs — Kofi Cockburn and Luka Garza, arguably the two best in the conference — were shut out until a Cockburn layup with under seven minutes to go in the half. That sparked a run by the Illini to stretch their lead to 23-15, but Iowa stormed right back and knotted things up at 23.
It took Garza about 15 minutes to get his first points for the Hawkeyes, but finished the half with a flourish, hitting a pair of threes and registering 11 points. Illinois held a 31-30 edge at the break. Kofi had just 2 points and 4 rebounds in 16 minutes. Illinois did a great job of weathering the storm without Ayo, who picked up his second foul with seven minutes left in the half and remained on the bench.
The Illini scored on back-to-back possessions to open the second half — a three by Trent Frazier and a layup by Cockburn. Unfortunately, Kofi would pick up a pair of fouls in a 14-second span soon thereafter and miss about nine minutes. The Hawkeyes immediately went on a 7-0 run — a Garza dunk, a CJ Fredrick three and a Joe Wieskamp layup — to grab a 44-38 lead. A pair of Kipper Nichols free throws and a quick Ayo layup cut the Iowa lead back down to two. The Illini seemed to be in trouble again after Kipper was whistled for his fourth foul with about 12 minutes remaining.
However, Illinois kept hanging in, fighting back to a 55-54 deficit that ended on a third-chance opportunity on a Frazier three, right before Feliz battled under the basket with the bigs to give the Illini a 59-55 lead.
But the Hawkeyes would go on a 17-6 run from there. The duo of Garza and Fredrick helped give the Hawkeyes a lead that they ultimately would not relinquish. Garza swished a three with 37 seconds left to put the game out of reach and send the home crowd into a frenzy. Joe Wieskamp added a free throw followed by an emphatic slam dunk to finish off the Iowa victory.
This will go down as an Illinois loss, but it was a tight, chaotic, physical, emotionally-charged game emblematic of what we’ve seen in the B1G this season.
- Andres Feliz — 17 points, 4 rebounds
- Giorgi Bezhanishvili — 7 points, 6 rebounds
You Gotta See This
Dr. G will see you now.
Don’t forget about Dre.
Andres Feliz 4-point play pic.twitter.com/RsczeQyKYY— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) February 2, 2020
Tweet of the Game
my god I hate Iowa— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) February 2, 2020
This happened overnight and has nothing to do with this game but is still very cool.
The Fighting Illini return to State Farm Center for a rematch with the No. 15 Maryland Terrapins Friday night at 7 p.m. The game can be seen on FS1.
Maryland hosts No. 25 Rutgers on Tuesday.