College Mens Basketball

Iowa 104, Illinois 97 (OT): 3 takeaways, highlights

Iowa's Luka Garza contests Illinois' Kipper Nichols' shot Thursday at State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill.. (USA TODAY Sports)
Iowa's Luka Garza contests Illinois' Kipper Nichols' shot Thursday at State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill.. (USA TODAY Sports)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – It looked for 20 minutes like Thursday night was going to be yet another frustrating, pound-your-head-against-a-wall game for the Iowa men’s basketball team. But less than three minutes into the second half, the Hawkeyes changed that tune with emphasis.

Despite a running 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, Iowa left State Farm Center with its first Big Ten win of the season, 104-97, over Illinois.

Postgame: Iowa offers an answer to losing streak

Iowa faces challenge of replicating winning performance

Here are three takeaways from the game:

1. Whatever questions anyone had about effort are bunk

Some who follow Iowa have in recent weeks questioned whether or not the Hawkeyes had checked out; whether they were completely lost and weren’t accepting Fran McCaffery’s coaching.

Those questions got an emphatic answer, even if just for one night.

The Hawkeyes could scarcely have played a worse first half, save for rebounding and at the free throw line. Being down, 54-41, at the break felt like it was closer than the game really was. But Iowa opened the second half on a 10-0 run in less than three minutes and the game reset.

From there, Iowa still had breakdowns defensively, but showed patience and purpose in ball movement and found high-quality shots. When Iowa finally took the lead, late in the second half, it came on an uptick in its 2-3 zone.

While Trent Frazier’s running 3-pointer forced overtime – the Hawkeyes chose not to foul up three after doing so the possession before, counter to McCaffery’s wishes – Iowa took care of business in overtime thanks to icing it at the free throw line, an and-1 from Luka Garza (hold that thought) and a big 3-pointer from Jordan Bohannon.

It would have been easy for Iowa to mail it in in the second half. The Hawkeyes did not.

2. Luka Garza and Ryan Kriener were the catalysts for the win

The first half belonged to Tyler Cook and Jordan Bohannon for Iowa. The pair of sophomores were the only positive thing the Hawkeyes had on offense, with 14 and 15 points, respectively, in that opening frame.

The second half and overtime belonged to Garza and Ryan Kriener. Kriener subbed in midway through the second half – for Garza – and promptly hit a jumper, forced a bad shot and got the rebound. That kind of impact is one he hasn’t made for Iowa in the last several games, but his effort on both ends gave the frontcourt a boost, and provided relief while Cook was shadowed heavily by Illinois. He finished with five points and four rebounds in 12 minutes

But it was Garza who sealed it for Iowa. His 19 points and 11 rebounds came largely in the second half and overtime, and his and-1 in overtime was crucial to Iowa getting the game out of reach. His patience and physical play inside on both ends got him good looks, which he finished. It was a grow-up kind of game for him.

3. Free throws matter

We’ll keep this one short. The Hawkeyes were 33 of 40 from the free throw line. Believe what you’d like about officiating, but Iowa fouled out four Illinois players and cashed in at the line. Their 14 of 14 mark from the line in the first half kept them in the game.

As always, free throws matter, kids.

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