Iowa defeats feisty Illinois team, 68-60


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If there were any questions on whether the border-state rivalry between Iowa and Illinois still had any fire, the first couple of minutes — and subsequent rest of the game — of Iowa’s 68-60 win answered that.

After getting tangled up several times early, Illinois’ Leron Black and Adam Woodbury went to the ground in what appeared to be another tangle up. The foul on Black was reviewed and not upgraded to a flagrant.

It was far from the last time the referees reviewed a foul with the monitors during a game that was tightly contested, highly physical, and testy.

“First of all, I think you have to look at the circumstances,” Aaron White said. “Both teams are relatively on the bubble, probably them more than us. Both teams pretty close in the Big Ten standings … the circumstances set up for a pretty intense game; a physical, tough game. And that’s what we got.”

The Hawkeyes jumped out to an 20-12 lead within the first eight minutes of play; however, that quickly dissipated when Illinois reeled off an 11-2 run to take a 23-22 lead. Most of the problems that plagued the Hawkeyes during that run plagued them all half long.

In retrospect, Iowa was fortunate that it held a 1-point lead at halftime. The Hawkeyes had assists on 9 of its 11 field goals, yet they had also turned the ball over 8 times, leading to 14 Fighting Illini points on those turnovers.

Iowa turned the ball over in the second half as well, albeit at a much less frequent rate. But more importantly, Illinois wasn’t able to convert those turnovers into points.

Conversely, Illinois turned the ball over 13 times, including 6 turnovers from its point guard, Ahmad Starks.

“We need to be tougher during this time of the year,” Illinois head coach John Groce said. “I thought some of our passes were sloppy.”

With 17:11 left in the game, White took over, scoring 14-straight points for the Hawkeyes, culminating in a career-high 29 points, as well as 9 rebounds and 2 steals.

But perhaps the most important play of the game — or rather plays of the game — occurred on back-to-back possessions for the Hawkeyes.

Up 8 with 5:22 left in the game, Anthony Clemmons ran off on the ball screen, then lobbed the ball to a backdoor-cutting White, who slammed the ball in to give Iowa a double-digit lead.

The pass looked high when it left Clemmons’ hands, but the junior guard knew whom he was throwing it to.

“Aaron is athletic enough that I know he’s going to get any pass that I throw up there,” Clemmons said. “That’s his play. If he missed that, that’s on him.”

On the next play, Mike Gesell held the ball up top. After setting up, Gesell split two defenders, drove to the basket, and threw in another slam with his right hand, giving Iowa the 62-50 lead and bringing the Carver-Hawkeye crowd to its feet.

“I’m a little more athletic than people think, in my opinion,” Gesell said. “The lane was wide open at that point, and I was able to get up.”

Up 12 with fewer than five minutes left, all Iowa needed to do was make its free throws, which it eventually did, although it failed to shut the door right away.

When they did shut the door, the Hawks walked away with their first three-game Big Ten winning streak of the season, a 9-6 record in the Big Ten, and an opportunity to finish the final stretch of its season on its highest note yet.

“I mean, we have really competed in these three games,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “We’ve got three more [games], and the plan is for that to continue.”

Follow @JacobSheyko on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa men’s basketball team.

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