IOWA CITY — Despite a 21-point effort from Tony Freeman including shooting 13-15 from the foul line, Illinois escaped Carver Hawkeye Arena with a win over the University of Iowa men’s basketball team Saturday night 58-47.
“If we’re on top of our game we’re a competitive team,” Iowa coach Todd Lickliter said. “If we’re not then we’re not competitive and we won’t be with anybody.”
“It’s a good win for us,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “Any win is good. I joked all week that the first team to 40 would win.” With the victory, the Illini move to 12-17 on the season with a 4-12 Big Ten record. Iowa fell to 12-18 (5-12).
The Hawkeyes shot 35.9 percent for the game (14-39) and Illinois shot 38.8 percent (19-49) but the story was the free-throw shooting of both teams. Illinois went 16-19 from the line while Iowa made only 16-27.
“It’s a miracle,” Weber said. “What can you say? That may be the best of the year.”
“I thought we would get to the line and that would be a good thing but 16-27?” Lickliter said. “You make six more of those and the game gets a lot tighter.”
Iowa opened the first half by taking the ball inside for two quick lay-ups by Seth Gorney and Jake Kelly to take a 4-3 lead. Kelly would add another lay-up and Freeman would add a three-pointer while Shaun Pruitt and Mike Davis of the Illini each added four points each in a tightly contested first 10 minutes leading to a slim 15-14 lead for Illinois. Kelly would finish the night with 10 points and two assists.
The next six minutes were dominated by a 12-2 run by Illinois in which Pruitt scored two more buckets to help the Illini to a 27-16 lead. Gorney scored the only bucket during the run for the Hawkeyes at the 6:41 mark, which would be Iowa’s last field goal until the 2:03 mark when Freeman hit a three-point basket to cut the Illinois lead to 29-21.
Freeman would get fouled inside of one minute to play and would convert the free-throws to cut the Illini lead to 29-23 at the half.
Iowa shot 36.8 percent for the half (7-19) while Illinois shot 42.3 percent (11-26). Pruitt led the Illini with 12 points and five rebounds while Freeman led the Hawkeyes with nine points, including shooting 2-of-4 from behind the arc.
“In the first half they established that they were the aggressor,” Lickliter said.
“We wanted to be aggressive,” Weber said. “We were playing with enthusiasm, playing hard, hanging together and helping each other out.”
Iowa was held scoreless for nearly four minutes to start the second half until Freeman dished the ball inside for an assist to Kurt Looby. Illinois would continue to get the ball inside to Pruitt and Mike Tisdale, who came in off the bench to score five quick points to help Illinois increase its lead to 43-31 with 10 minutes left in the game.
Freeman then came alive for the Hawkeyes, getting into the lane and getting fouled. He made three-of-four free-throws and a three-point play to cut the Illini lead to 50-45 with 2:21 left to play. On Illinois’ next possession, Cyrus Tate was called for goal-tending when he blocked a shot from Pruitt which led to a 52-45 lead for the Illini and they wouldn’t look back, making free-throws down the stretch to close the game with a 58-47 victory.
“We’ve worked hard and competed at a high level and we haven’t been rewarded,” Lickliter said. “That’s hard. We could lose our focus. But that’s the way life is, you have to respond.”
Also coming up big for Illinois was Trent Meacham. Meacham scored all 10 of his points in the second half, including one three-pointer to give the Illini a double-digit lead early in the second half and another after Iowa had closed the lead to five, to give Illinois a 48-40 lead. He would also make four free-throws at the end of the game to seal the victory for the Illini.
“Meacham made a big play for us at a big time,” Weber said. “He made a big three and he also hit his free-throws.”
Iowa’s final game of the regular season is March 4 at Northwestern with a tip-time of 8:05 p.m.