The baskets by Freeman were the turning point of a back and forth game that featured 11 ties and 12 lead changes.
Illinois (21-10, 9-7) got late hoops from Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle to close to within 2 at 55-53, but senior guard Mike Henderson scored on a driving layup and was fouled with 31 seconds left to play. Henderson's free throw gave the Hawkeyes a 5 point lead, and Iowa (17-13, 9-7) hit a pair of free throws to get to the final margin.
"At 49 up, we've got two free throws," said Bruce Weber. "We don't make them, they come down, Tony Freeman hit a couple of big threes. We had our chances, we just didn't make the plays when it counted."
Once again, Illinois' defense kept them in the game while the offense struggled. Illinois shot only 36% from the field, and 30% from behind the arc, and had 13 turnovers. Shaun Pruitt was the bright spot for the Illini on the offensive end, scoring a career-high 20 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. Warren Carter scored 12 points, 8 of them early in the first half before injuring his ankle. Carter left the floor for almost 10 minutes, and was tentative after being retaped. Rich McBride had 9 points on 3-8 shooting from behind the arc, but was held scoreless in the second half.
"Rich is trying to be a senior and make a big play," said Weber. "A couple of them were pretty far out, and early in the shot clock. I wish we could have gotten better shots, or someone could have made a play."
Adam Haluska led the Haweyes with 21 points. Freeman added 13, and Henderson had 11.
Illinois had the most success when they worked the ball inside against the Hawkeyes. Pruitt and Carter racked up 2 quick fouls on Iowa's big men Kurt Looby and Seth Gorney, and accounted for 20 of Illinois' 28 first half points.
The offense bogged down when Iowa switched to a zone defense and denied the entry pass into the post. Iowa switched to zone shortly after McBride picked up his second foul of the first half and was forced to the bench. McBride was limited to 10 minutes in the half.
Illinois outrebounded the smaller Hawkeyes 39-29, including 16 offensive rebounds, and scored 15 second-chance points.
Next up for the Illini is the Big Ten Tournament. Illinois won't know their seed or what day they play until conference games conclude tonight, but the most likely scenario has Illinois playing Thursday as the 6 seed against 11 seed Penn State. The winner of that game will most likely face 3-seed Indiana on Friday.
In order to ensure a spot in the NCAA tournament, the Illini probably have to win Thursday, and, depending on the results of conference tournaments, may need to win Friday.
"I think that if we win one (in the tournament) we're in pretty good shape," said Weber. "A lot of it depends on every other tournament. You don't know how many crazy things can happen. You can't take anything for granted. No other team in Big Ten history has been over .500 (in the league) and had 20 wins and hasn't gotten in, so we've got something to stand on. But there's a first time for everything. I think we've shown enough that we belong in the dance, but we've got to go to Chicago and win at least one."