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Tony Perkins cooked with fire, and Iowa savored hard-fought win over Illinois
Junior guard scores career-high 32 points in Hawkeyes’ 81-79 win over the Illini Saturday
An orange-and-blue balloon sailed into Iowa’s airspace Saturday afternoon, but Tony Perkins shot it down.
The Iowa men’s basketball junior guard had the game of his career. His team needed every shred of it in its 81-79 win over the Illini at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Perkins scored 25 of his 32 points in the second-half, and eclipsed his personal-best by 10 points. He made 15 of 16 free throws and an array of pullup, midrange jumpers that seemed to leave Illinois players in the dust each time.
Perkins’ mother, Renita Henderson of Indianapolis, summed it up as efficiently as one of her son’s moves with the ball Saturday.
“It was awesome,” she said.
Other than the small pockets of Illinois fans spread around the arena, the sellout crowd of 15,056 agreed.
The win left both teams at 7-5 in the Big Ten. The Illini arrived with seven victories in their last eight games. Iowa heads to first-place Purdue next Thursday with three straight triumphs and seven in the last nine games.
Perkins tied an Iowa single-game record (Andre Woolridge, 1997) by making 15 straight free throws.
“Should have broke it,” he said. His lone miss was with 10 seconds left and Iowa ahead 81-78.
Perkins drew nine fouls. He made all 15 of his free throws in the second half. When Illinois lost him on defense, he kept cashing with his jumper, hitting all but one of his six second-half field goal tries.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” said Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “I haven’t had too many guys go off like that. That was impressive.”
Perkins said McCaffery had told him “Keep attacking, keep attacking.” Both said Iowa’s other four players on the court insisted the ball to keep going to Perkins.
“The players were calling it,” Perkins said. “C-Mac (Connor McCaffery), Ahron (Ulis), Payton (Sandfort), Kris (Murray), Fil (Rebraca) — they were just calling the plays. I was just going with it.”
“It was ‘OK, this guy’s cooking,’ ” Fran McCaffery said.
“They were yelling out plays to me that we should be running for him. So they recognized that ‘OK, this guy’s on fire. We’re going to him. Nobody else is shooting the ball right now.’ ”
And for a while, that was the case. Perkins scored eight straight points for his team as it turned a 65-62 deficit to a 70-68 lead. After two Rebraca free throws (Iowa was 26-of-30), Perkins made two more foul shots and a jumper for a 76-73 lead with 2:58 left.
But this was one went to the last tick. After Matthew Mayer’s 3-pointer tied the game at 76, Sandfort stuck a three with 1:30 left and the Hawkeyes led the rest of the way.
It was 81-78 when Illini freshman Jayden Epps’ 3-pointer was blocked by Sandfort. Coleman Hawkins got the rebound and was fouled with 1.1 seconds left. He made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second, but the carom went directly into Connor McCaffery’s hands, and time expired.
Teammates Ulis and Josh Ogundele immediately ran to Perkins to love him up, and other Hawkeyes quickly followed suit.
Illinois out-rebounded Iowa, 37-26, but the Hawkeyes negated that with only 7 turnovers to the Illini’s 14.
The Illini led for almost 24 minutes. Freshman guard Epps scored 12 straight Illinois points in the space of 3:43. Illinois led 55-49 at the end of his run, with 12:40 remaining.
“They are really good,” McCaffery said. “They have talent, they have size, they have depth. They have drivers, they have veterans, they have young guys. It takes a lot to beat them.”
It took Perkins, who scored 19 points in the final 12:21.
“When the second half came and we started out slow,” said Perkins, “it kind of got in my head ‘OK, I’ve got to score some points. Let me go back to work then.’ The shots just started falling and we just went off of that.”
Perkins was at his best last season in February and March. Will we see a repeat this year?
“It’s got to be,” he said. “Because I want to win, I like to win. It feels good to win.”
His mother agreed. Will she be at Thursday’s Iowa-Purdue game, a 75-mile drive from her home?
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