Illinois 68, Iowa 66
INDIANAPOLIS -- The NCAA tournament has been considered out of the question for Illinois (15-18) for some time, but they tasted the madness of March on Thursday with a 68-66 upset win over No. 5 seed Iowa in thrilling fashion.
The Illini grinded through a wild one at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indianapolis native Jalen Coleman-Lands led the way with 17 points and five three-pointers, as he broke the Illini freshman three-point record. Coleman-Lands buried a triple with 3:33 left on the clock to put Illinois up 66-55.
That seemed to be all but the dagger for the Hawkeyes, who had Peter Jok (29 points) sitting on the bench after fouling out on a dead-ball technical. Jok led all scorers, and he had a stretch in the first half in which he scored 15 straight points - including 11 points in a 1:37 span.
But Iowa stormed back, while Illinois choked away an 11-point lead in less than two minutes after an and-one hoop by Nicholas Baer.
There was only one bucket made in the final 1:40 of the game, and it was a big one by Malcolm Hill off an isolation pull-up. Hill struggled all game long - finishing with six points (2-9) and five turnovers. But he stepped up to put Illinois ahead 68-66, which was a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Iowa had a chance to tie or win the game at the end. But Hill ripped the ball out of Mike Gessell's hands, which led to a jump ball. On the following in-bounds play, Nunn made the entry pass a tough one and it was deflected off of Iowa. It was originally called Iowa's ball, but the "Illinois rule" reversed the call on the review.
The Illini shot 44.8 percent from the field and 43.5 percent (10-of-23) from three on the game. Kendrick Nunn (16) and Maverick Morgan (14) joined Coleman-Lands as double-digit scorers for Illinois.
Iowa shot 40.3 percent from the field, but they were embarrassingly limited outside of Jok and Jarrod Uthoff (21 points). Those two combined for 50 points on 19-of-32 shooting. The rest of the Hawkeyes had 16 points and went 6-of-30 from the field. Iowa also had 18 turnovers in the game.
What it means
The Illini basketball program simply has a knack for playing spoiler as a double-digit seed in the Big Ten tournament. They made it to the championship game the two previous times, and now they are on their way to the quarterfinals. As for Iowa, they have now had three straight one-game exits in the Big Ten tournament at the hands of a double-digit seed. This was a big win for the Illini, who are trying to finish this painful season on a high note. Winning back-to-back Big Ten games for the first time all year is one way to do it. Better late than never. Illinois is a team that feels good about themselves right now, and they're not ready to end this season just yet. They're still hungry for more, and that shows the progress and character of this group - which has been questioned along the way.
What went right
The Illini started fast, they responded to Iowa's runs and they finished off the victory. Their offensive execution was good once again on Thursday, and their defense stepped up during big stretches. Illinois also played with a high level of confidence and they battled from start to finish.
Iowa's offense is highly predicated on Uthoff and Jok, and Illinois held that duo to just three points combined in the final eight minutes of the game.
Illinois was balanced at the offensive end once again. Morgan was huge in the first half with 12 points in 15 minutes. In the second half, Coleman-Lands had 14 points with four threes. Nunn made some big plays in transition. Michael Finke hit a pair of threes. And when the Illini needed him, Hill stepped up and hit a big-time shot in a big-time moment.
What went wrong
The Illini allowed Uthoff and Jok to go off for 50 points. They had no answer for Jok when he went on his run late in the first half. With Jok on the bench and less than four minutes to go, Illinois blew an 11-point lead in less than two minutes.
The Illini also allowed too many offensive rebounds (16). Iowa had 14 second-chance points, including some second-chance threes that allowed them to get back in the game. Illinois will have to clean that up against Purdue's daunting frontcourt.
Hill did not have a good game as a whole. He struggled to get in a rhythm offensively, and he made some bad decisions with the ball.
Star of the game
Jalen Coleman-Lands: The Illini freshman is an elite shooter, and he has a chance to be an elite player in the conference before his time is up in Champaign. Coleman-Lands made big shots for the Illini in this one, and he has never been one to back down from a challenge. He has been impressive during his first run through the Big Ten, and so much more is to come. Just give him a full off-season.
The Illini will take on No. 4 seed Purdue in the quarterfinals on Friday at 1:30 p.m. CT. The Boilermakers finished the regular season with a 24-7 record and a 12-6 record in conference play. Purdue won their last three Big Ten games, including home wins over Maryland and Wisconsin. The Illini took down Purdue in their only meeting this season - winning 84-70 behind 52 points combined between Hill and Nunn.