By: JAMES ALLAN
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois rode the momentum of a strong first half to hand the University of Iowa men’s basketball team a 76-64 loss Wednesday night at the State Farm Center.
The Fighting Illini scored the game’s first 10 points and led by as many as 18 points in the first 20 minutes. Illinois took a 40-24 lead into the locker room after shooting 55.2 percent from the floor and making 6-of-11 first-half 3-pointers.
Iowa didn’t help its cause by committing 10 first-half turnovers and shooting just 37 percent from the field.
The Hawkeyes fought back in the second half with a different lineup and threatened to make it a game. Senior Peter Jok was the only holdover, and he was joined by Christian Williams, Ahmad Wagner, Ryan Kriener, and Nicholas Baer.
“That group did some good things in first half,” said UI head coach Fran McCaffery. “Ahmad, Baer, Uhl… those guys were good and gave us a chance with their activity level defensively, getting to the glass, and running the floor. That’s what we needed.”
Iowa cut the deficit to 11 points four times — the first came on a Jordan Bohannon 3-pointer, trimming the lead to 47-36 with 14:25 to play. Dom Uhl made a 3-pointer to make the score 50-39, Cordell Pemsl’s layup made it 52-41, and a Tyler Cook layup with 9:40 left made it 54-43.
Illinois answered with a mini-spurt to open up a 62-45 lead on a Tracey Abrams 3-pointer with eight minutes left and the Fighting Illini matched their biggest lead at 65-47 with 6:16 remaining.
The Hawkeyes continued battling, and they managed to cut the lead to single digits on an Ahmad Wagner layup with 3:29 to play. Illinois’ Michael Finke put the nail in the Hawkeyes’ coffin with 2:16 left, hitting a 3-pointer from the corner to push the lead to 14.
Finke led all scorers with 17 points, making 7-of-10 field goals, including three 3-pointers.
Iowa shot 42.1 percent in the second half and an even 40 percent for the game, making 26-of-65 field goals. The Hawkeyes went 5-of-23 from 3-point range and missed nine free throws (7-of-16).
The Hawkeyes scored 13 second-chance points off 16 offensive rebounds and got 40 points of production from their reserves.
Baer and Wagner led the team with 12 points apiece. Wagner made 5-of-8 field goals and had five rebounds, while Baer was 5-for-10 from the field with a team-high seven boards. Jok gutted his way to 10 points, playing 32 minutes through a back injury.
Iowa (11-10, 3-5) returns to action Saturday, hosting Ohio State at 7 p.m. (CT) on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.