Horner Pushes Hawkeyes Past Illini

IOWA CITY, Iowa — After Thursday’s loss at Wisconsin, point guard Jeff Horner said it would be “pretty good” to split Iowa’s first two Big Ten Conference games.

After the senior scored a game-high 16 points and six assists to help the Hawkeyes do just that Saturday, his reaction was considerably less reserved.

“I definitely think it’s right up there with beating Michigan State last year in the Big Ten tournament,” Horner said. “It was a gratifying win.”

Unranked Iowa handed No. 6 Illinois its first loss of the season, 63-48, before a sellout crowd of 15,500 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, as the student section rushed the court following the win.

“It was awesome having the students come out like that,” Horner added. “We haven’t witnessed anything like that. The students were awesome tonight. The crowd was awesome tonight.”

The last time Illinois (15-1, 1-1 Big Ten) scored under 50 points was in 1999 against Michigan State. Iowa (12-4, 1-1) hasn’t beaten the Illini since 2003.

“The last few years we’ve been right in there, but we couldn’t get over the hump during the last four-minute game,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said, “and tonight we were able to do that.”

The Hawkeyes were able to turn a 23-19 halftime lead into a momentum building nine-point advantage following a 7-2 run to start the second half, which was just enough to keep Illinois from ever regaining control.

“They had a little lead at half, they came out with that little spurt after, and we couldn’t respond,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “We started off shooting OK, but we didn’t take care of the ball.”

All of it was unlikely for an Iowa team that struggled for 18 second-half points on 5-of-30 shooting against the Badgers.

“I thought at Wisconsin we allowed our inability to make shots affect our defense, and that’s all we talked about in this short turnaround,” Alford said. “In fact, we told them, we don’t care if you shoot 25 percent in this game today, make sure we’re guarding the way we’ve been guarding.”

The Hawkeyes shot exactly 25 percent in the first half, but Iowa’s Mike Henderson and Tony Freeman held Illinois’ leading scorer, Dee Brown, to just one first-half point and six points for the game.

“All the guys on the floor knew where he was at, and we just tried to stay in front of him as much as we could,” Henderson said. “We just kind of wore him out on both sides of the court.”

Brown, a 6-foot senior, had been the Big Ten’s eighth-best scorer, averaging 15.5 points a game. His six points matched his second-lowest game this season.

“He’s human,” Weber said of Brown. “A lot of people put the Superman jersey on him, but he’s human, he’s a kid. Everybody tells him how great he is, and he’s on all the highlight reels, and it was a learning experience for him.”

Brown had scored a career-high 34 points against Michigan State on Thursday.

“I made shots (then), but I didn’t make shots (Saturday),” Brown said. “Iowa played well, and it was just that we didn’t play well.”

The Illini were held to 34.6 percent from the field for the game and were hampered by foul trouble the entire way.

Forward James Augustine, who scored a team-high 14 points and nine rebounds for Illinois, picked up his fourth personal foul with 14:33 remaining in the second half. Starter Brian Randle fouled out with 2:45 left, while three other players had at least three fouls.

“You get in foul trouble, and you’ve got no rhythm,” Weber said. “And we’ve got guys in there who don’t know the plays, and we’re standing around, and it makes me look like a dummy.”

Illinois’ 19 first-half points were the fewest scored by the Illini this season, and it was second-fewest allowed by an Iowa team. The Hawkeyes had previously held Arizona State to 12 points in December.

“Our defense is pretty good,” forward Greg Brunner, who had a game-high 12 rebounds, said. “It’s been our staple all year. We haven’t been hitting shots, but we’ve been continually working hard on the defensive end. It’s progressed to the point where we’re shutting down pretty good teams.”

Iowa out-rebounded Illinois, 45-32.

Illinois scored seven straight to edge within 41-38 with 8:17 left, but a pair of Adam Haluska free throws kept Iowa out to a five-point lead. That sparked an 8-1 spurt that gave the Hawkeyes a 10-point advantage with five minutes to play.

Haluska scored 15 points, thanks mainly to hitting 9 of 10 from the free-throw line. Henderson added 10 more points.

In the last three minutes, the Hawkeyes outscored the Illini, 14-6, hitting nine-straight free throws.

“Our last four minutes of the game was as good as we’ve been finishing. We did a lot of good things,” Alford said. “We’re just grateful that we were able to fight and get a win.”

Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com