By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Big Ten’s top offense relied on defense down the stretch, allowing the 18th-ranked University of Iowa men’s basketball team to defeat No. 19 Illinois, 72-65, on Sunday in front of a sellout crowd of 15,056 on Mediacom Court in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes improved to 16-6 overall, 7-4 in the Big Ten. They entered the game leading the league with a scoring average of 79.2 points per game (77.6 in Big Ten games). Iowa clamped down on defense after taking a 64-62 lead on a 3-point field goal by sophomore Connor McCaffery with 3:34 remaining.
While the Hawkeyes closed on an 11-3 run offensively, they also forced Illinois into two turnovers and 0-for-3 shooting until Ayo Dosunmu made an inconsequential 3-point field goal with :04 left.
“Coming down the stretch to beat a team of this caliber, you have to execution,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “Execution is at both ends of the floor. Everybody thinks execution is offense only, but you also need good execution on defense.”
In the process, Iowa defeated Illinois for a fifth straight time and snapped a seven-game winning streak by the Illini.
Iowa junior Luka Garza scored a game-high 25 points, making a career-high four 3-point field goals. It is the seventh consecutive game he has scored 20-or-more points.
“Illinois kept coming at us and we kept coming at them,” Garza said. “Toughness is what allowed us to get this win.”
Garza scored 14 points and pulled down eight of his game-high 10 rebounds in the second half, when Iowa outscored Illinois, 42-34.
Connor McCaffery played a game-high 38 minutes, scoring all nine of his points from distance. He handed out a game-high seven assists with no turnovers.
“You have to fight through any kind of fatigue,” Connor McCaffery said. “I played a lot of minutes, so I’m out there huffing and puffing at times, and you have to bite your tongue and guard. You have to dig in down the stretch and we have been doing that.”
Iowa sophomore Joe Wieskamp and freshman CJ Fredrick both scored 18 points for the Hawkeyes. Junior Cordell Pemsl had four assists in 12 minutes.
Illinois was led by Andres Feliz with 17 points. The Illini duo of Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn entered the game averaging 30.4 points per game, but were held to 17 on Sunday.
QUOTING COACH McCAFFERY
“Our defense down the stretch provided us with great opportunity and energy. The crowd was terrific.
“Illinois is a top team that has played well on the road. We threw a couple punches at the end and they responded. In the middle part of the second half defensively, we weren’t where we needed to be. I pointed that out during a timeout and I thought we were substantially better.”
STATISTIC OF THE GAME
Iowa’s starting lineup of Garza (25 points), Wieskamp (18), Fredrick (18), McCaffery (nine), and freshman Joe Toussaint (two) scored all 72 points for the Hawkeyes. Iowa out-scored the Illini, 15-5, on fast break points.
Iowa improved to 11-1 at home, winning its 10th straight contest in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes have now recorded six Quad 1 wins this season.
Iowa has five wins this season against AP-ranked teams, tying Baylor for the most in the nation.
Sunday marked the fifth time in seven games that Iowa faced a ranked opponent.
The Hawkeyes return to action Wednesday against Purdue in Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana. Tip-off is 6:01 p.m. (CT). The Boilermakers improved to 12-10, 5-6 with a 61-58 win at Northwestern on Feb. 1.
ILLINOIS AT IOWA PHOTO GALLERY