IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa once again stayed with No. 1 Illinois Saturday inside a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena in a game that saw eight lead changes and two ties, but the Illini responded and pulled out a 75-65 win against the Hawkeyes.
The game came down to the final seven minutes, but unbeaten Illinois staged a 14-7 run and kept ahead of the Hawkeyes down the stretch with a breakaway layup by Dee Brown off a Hawkeye inbounds pass and an unlikely 3-pointer by Nick Smith.
Brown and teammate Deron Williams had 18 points to pace Illinois (27-0, 13-0 Big Ten), while James Augustine had 13.
For Iowa Head Coach Steve Alford, turnovers like those Brown capitalized on turned the game. Iowa had 21 and the Illini converted them into 23 points.
“It really came down to not taking care of the basketball,” the coach said. “One team turned it over 11 more times and one team got 11 more shots on goal. I think that was the difference in the game. You can’t give a team like this 11 more possessions.”
Turnovers plagued the first five minutes for both teams. Iowa (16-9, 4-8) had three in the first three minutes and Illinois had three in the first four, but the Hawkeyes had turnovers in the last five minutes when the Illini outscored them 2 to 1.
In the final three minutes Jeff Horner nailed a 3-pointer to get within five, but Brown responded with one of his own. Greg Brunner grabbed a layup to close to within six, but Smith nailed his second 3 of the season and then Brown grabbed the layup off the turnover to go up by 11 with 35 seconds left.
“I felt if we could have made a play there down the stretch when we were down by two, an easy bucket or something, it would have turned the momentum around,” said Horner, who scored 12 points on 4 of 8 shooting. “We just came up a little short tonight. We have to find a way to make a play down the stretch and if we do that things will turn around for us.”
Haluska led Iowa with a game-high 20 points on 6 of 12 shooting. He hit two 3-pointers and was 6 of 7 at the line. Brunner scored 15 points on 5 of 11 shooting and had a game-high nine rebounds.
“I think if we continued to play the way we did to get back into it, stay competitive and stay confident, maybe we could have gotten back into it,” Haluska said. “But they kept making play after play, and they were very unselfish.”
The Hawkeyes out-rebounded the Illini 36 to 21, picking up 10 more defensive rebounds. They were also 21 of 26 at the charity stripe and 20 of 43 for the game (46.5 percent), while the Illini shot 26 of 54 overall (48.1 percent).
“They can beat you in a lot of different ways,” Alford said of Illinois. “We threw zones at them and mans at them and traps at them, we shot well on our home floor, we got to the free throw line on our home floor, we out rebound them by 15 and we still lose by 10. They find ways to win, and they don’t feel the pressure.”
Illinois Coach Bruce Weber felt Iowa’s zone defense caused his team some pressure.
“Their zone stifled us a little bit, but we got some good shots,” he said. “We did keep our poise and made the big plays when we needed it.
“This was a tough game. We expected a tough game. They just came back right at us, but we never let them take control.”
The Hawkeyes got behind 7-2 in the first two minutes but launched a 9-0 run to get an 11-7 lead with 13:34 to play in the first half – it was their largest lead of the game.
After a back and forth battle for another 10 minutes, Williams nailed a 3-pointer to go up by five points and Illinois took control of the final minute with a 9-4 run to gain a 36-28 halftime advantage.
After the intermission, the Illini got out to a 12-point lead – their largest of the game – on a jumper by Deron Williams with 18:51 to play. Iowa challenged several times, including a 9-2 run midway through the half to get to within two, but Illinois didn’t surrender its lead again.
Horner said his team has learned some lessons since its 66-63 loss to Purdue on Wednesday and its loss against the Illini.
“We’ve got to figure things out,” the junior said. “We have to come out every game and play the same way, and it starts Wednesday against Minnesota. We know what we have to do now and that’s win our last four games.
“Our backs are against the wall,” he added. “We just want to go out and get the job done. We want to try as hard as we can to win the last four games.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com