IOWA CITY, Iowa — Point guard Jeff Horner nailed two three-pointers in the second half and Iowa broke a two-game losing streak Tuesday, as the Hawkeyes downed Eastern Illinois 71-62 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Horner’s first goal of the game came at 5:57 in the last period to break for good a Panther lead that grew to six midway through the half, and his second came with just under two minutes left in regulation to cement a Hawkeye run of 11 unanswered points.
“Horner’s three-pointer was huge,” Eastern Illinois coach Rick Samuels said. “That’s a credit to him to get it in, when he hadn’t shot well all night.
“But knowing what I know about Iowa, I’d make him take it again because he’s been struggling and we didn’t want them to get the ball inside to (Jared) Reiner.”
Indeed, the two shots were Horner’s only goals of the game and he went 2-for-8 from the field, adding seven points on free throws.
“Jeff made a jump shot, and I think that loosened him and the team up a bit,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “I’m just glad he kept shooting. It reminded me of Iowa State in the NIT last year. He had gone through a stretch where he hadn’t been making shots and it’s hard to understand. He’s a good shooter.
“He works so hard at it you want to pull for him,” added Alford. “He has enough toughness, where he could have been 0-for-6 at that time, but he has enough toughness to come up and make a tough shot. And that shot gave us a two-possession game. Those are big plays for us.”
“The biggest thing was that we got the win and we came alive for the last eight minutes,” said Horner, who improved his cumulative shooting average to 9.9 points a game. “We played the defense we needed to play, and they just played really hard.
“We didn’t shut them down all game, but something must have clicked,” added Horner. “We were on that two-game losing streak, so you’re just trying to find your way back to that winning streak again.”
Iowa jumped out to a nine-point lead to start the first half thanks to solid penetration by center Jared Reiner, who went 4-of-6 for 10 points to lead the Hawkeyes in the opening period. But it took Eastern Illinois just four minutes to level with a jumper by senior forward Jesse Mackinson.
Mackinson, a center, led the Panthers in the first half going 3-of-7 for eight points. He’s Eastern Illinois’s fourth-best shooter, averaging 7.5 points per game.
Guard Jason Wright led Eastern Illinois with 14 points, going 6-of-13, with five assists and five rebounds.
Reiner had 12 points, six rebounds and three assists in the match-up.
After senior forward Glen Worley helped stretch Iowa’s lead back to six after close shooting midway through the half, the Panthers matched the Hawkeyes point-for-point to close the first period at 31-25.
The halftime only energized Eastern Illinois which equalled Iowa at 33 points 2:48 into the second half. But after the Panthers scored five straight, Alford called a timeout to keep their attack at bay.
However, Derik Hollyfield made a three-pointer to bring the lead to six for the Panthers, and it took sophomore Greg Brunner to make back-to-back lay-ups to ease Iowa out of the deficit.
Power forward Brunner’s play was so intense that he went into the seats several times and was dealt a friendly-fire blow by Reiner on a rebound, breaking his nose for the fifth time in his life.
Certainly not phased by the injury, Brunner posted a team-high 16 points, a team-high five assists and equalled Horner’s nine rebounds to lead the Hawkeyes.
To Iowa’s great benefit, Horner took control of the game midway through and gave the Hawkeyes back the lead with his three-pointers.
But strangely enough, Iowa, which leads the Big Ten in rebounding, only beat out Eastern Illinois by six, in what Coach Alford referred to as “the poorest job all year” on the boards.
Stranger still was the fact Iowa was 73.9 percent accurate from the charity stripe, the first time since Iowa defeated Wisconsin-Green Bay 82-56 on Dec. 2 that Iowa broke 70 percent from the free-throw line.
“I thought Eastern Illinois did a tremendous job, and Coach Samuels’s been in this game for a long time and had his team very well prepared,” said Alford. “The glaring stat that Eastern has to be very pleased with is board play. For us to beat them by just six on the boards, I think, is much more a credit to them than what we did.”
In the end, though, the Panthers (1-8) just couldn’t finish — a problem that’s plagued them all season.
“Take away the first three minutes and the final three minutes and I think we probably could have won that game,” said Samuels. “Iowa forced us to make plays with the game on the line, and we simply struggled offensively.
“We’ve made some progress. We’ve played Ohio State and Iowa in the last two games and, I don’t know if Coach Alford would agree, but I think we took them out of what they wanted to do.”
Iowa (7-2) will take on Missouri on Saturday at 2:05 p.m.
“Right now, we’ve got a lot of work to do to prepare for a tough opponent in Missouri,” said Alford. “This was the poorest job we’ve done all year on the offensive board. Against Missouri, we’re going to have to rebound at a much higher level.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com