CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — There was a lot about Thursday night that was familiar for the Iowa men’s basketball team in a 104-97 overtime victory at Illinois.
There were the first 16 or so minutes, where the Hawkeyes (10-9, 1-5) found themselves down 20 while playing much the same kind of basketball they had played in five straight Big Ten Conference losses.
There was the comeback, which might not be familiar to the recent past, but overcoming a 20-point deficit to win has happened three times in school history, and two of them have happened at Illinois (10-8, 0-5) — a 22-point deficit in 1987 being the largest.
There was the running 3-pointer Trent Frazier hit at the end of regulation, forcing overtime, which bore an eerie resemblance to Andy Kaufmann’s game-winner from the exact same spot in 1993.
Those things sure were familiar sights for so many who follow Iowa basketball.
But it was what was familiar to the players on Thursday night that mattered most. It was an answer to a collective question many had posited over the last few weeks, wondering whether or not this version of the Hawkeyes had enough effort or desire to win.
Jordan Bohannon (29 points, five assists), Tyler Cook (21 points, 13 rebounds and three assists), Luka Garza (19 points, 11 rebounds) and Isaiah Moss (12 points) recognized the version everyone saw in the second half and overtime on Thursday. It was ball movement, taking care of the ball and activity in zone defense in the second half. They recognized the team they believed they were, but hadn’t shown to be.
The Hawkeyes came to the proverbial line in the sand and finally followed through on words they had spoken before.
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“Obviously we played our butts off,” Bohannon said. “When (Illinois) made their run, we didn’t get down on each other, and that was huge. A lot of times this year we were kind of negative toward each other, and that’s kind of been a mind-set for us, that teams are going to make runs, that’s basketball, and the good teams are ones that can bounce back from it.
“We said coming into this game, Tyler and I got the guys together before tip, and said, ‘Tonight’s the night we get on the right track.’”
The first Big Ten win of the season does not solve the issues facing the Hawkeyes. They know that.
Bohannon, Cook and Garza all acknowledged the real test now comes in replicating the way they played in the second half and overtime, but until they have the opportunity to do that, it’s also OK to acknowledge how vastly important Thursday night was.
If only to prove to themselves that they weren’t speaking empty words about believing in their ability, Iowa’s closing out a road win — getting crucial minutes from Ryan Kriener (five points, four rebounds in 12 minutes) off the bench in the second half while Garza rested was one of the catalysts — allows the players to shake the weight and pressure of losing.
“It’s a relief, getting a little weight off your shoulders, and be able to breathe; take a breath again,” Kriener said. “We don’t listen to the stuff everyone says about how we’re trash and stuff like that, that we’re underperforming. What we do is we go back and go to work.
“We’re not going to stop working. We’re going to be ready.”
Iowa got needed production out of its key players on Thursday. Bohannon and Cook were boosted by Garza in particular, with tough baskets in the second half — and in particular, an and-1 in overtime that gave Iowa an opening that Bohannon sealed with a 3.
The question of pride and desire is one that irked the Hawkeyes, if only judging by the look on their faces when it’s discussed.
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The Hawkeyes saw the team they recognize from their preparation. They were proud everyone got to see that team, too.
“We definitely answered them,” Cook said. “I feel like people who think we don’t want to win are just misinformed. Obviously there are things we haven’t done in the past that are needed to win. But every single one of us in the locker room wants to win. The challenge is figuring out who works well with who, what we need to do offensively and defensively to get the W. Everyone in the locker room is working together to turn the season around.”
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