CHICAGO — It will be a Friday at the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament, and Iowa will be one of the day’s eight participants.
That isn’t a story that will go global, but it’s meaningful in Hawkeyeland. Iowa put its five-year streak of missing out on the quarterfinals to bed Thursday night at the United Center with its 83-62 rout of Illinois. They also won for the first time in five games, a streak that felt at least equally important to quash.
Senior backup forward Nicholas Baer made 5 of 6 3-pointers and scored 17 points to lead the Hawkeyes. Power forward Tyler Cook matched his career-high with six assists and had 12 points. Joe Wieskamp scored six points in the first four minutes and finished with 13.
Iowa (22-10) thus will play 11th-ranked Michigan (26-5) Friday night at approximately 8:30. Illinois, the No. 11-seed in this tourney, finished its season with a 12-21 record.
The Hawkeyes trailed just once in this one. It happened in the first half, when a Tevian Jones 3-pointer gave Illinois a 13-10 edge. But three straight Iowa 3-pointers, by Baer, Jordan Bohannon and Baer again, shot Iowa back in front by 19-13, and they never were caught.
Iowa opened the second half with a 10-4 run for a 47-35 lead. The spurt was highlighted by a Tyler Cook one-hand jam off an inbounds pass from Bohannon.
Jones sank a 3-pointer to draw the Fighting Illini within 47-40, but Iowa’s Connor McCaffery answered with a 3 at the other end. Baer made another 3 shortly after, and Ryan Kriener scored five points over the next two Iowa possessions to stretch the lead to 58-42 with 12:14 remaining.
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The lead grew to 63-45 after Baer canned another 3-pointer off a feed from Cook (his sixth assist), and Baer repaid the favor by passing to Cook for a score. Cook then threw down a dunk off a drive to make it 65-47 with 9:24 left, and Baer hit another 3-pointer 35 seconds later to make it 68-47. Luka Garza swished Iowa’s 12th 3 for the game’s next points, and Kriener scored again to make it 73-47 before the timeout at the 6:44 mark.
The first-half was helter-skelter, with a pace unlike most in the first five games of this tourney. Iowa opened the game with a 7-0 run in the first 2:20. Illinois went on an 11-0 tear to take a 13-10 lead with 13:56 left, then the Hawkeyes answered with an 11-0 run of their own in the next 2:28 for a 21-13 advantage.
Iowa’s lead grew as large in the half as 30-20, then the Illini peeled off the next nine points as the Hawkeyes were scoreless for 5:13.
But the Hawkeyes responded with — what else? — a run. They scored seven consecutive points for a 37-29 edge. Ayo Dosunmu’s layup for Illinois closed the scoring in the half, and Iowa led 37-31. Eight different Hawkeyes scored in the half.
Iowa had made just 29.8 percent of its 3-pointers in its previous five games, but it made five of its first seven and 12 of 23 overall Thursday. Illinois trailed at halftime despite shooting 54.2 percent from the field, partly because of its nine turnovers in the half.
Fran McCaffery put walk-ons Austin Ash, Riley Till and Michael Baer in the game with 2:01 left, and walk-on Nicolas Hobbs joined them on the court soon afterward. It was a feel-good night for everyone on the Hawkeyes.
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