This win came on the heels of a very poor shooting performance at Wisconsin that saw Iowa lead at the break but miss 19 consecutive shots from the end of the first half through much of the second half.
In its win against Illinois, Iowa shot just over 35 percent, including a 1-11 streak in the second half that including one possession where Iowa missed five shots.
But the difference in this game as opposed to the loss at Wisconsin is that Iowa held Illinois to less than 35-percent from the floor for the game.
Mike Henderson, Tony Freeman and Jeff Horner held all-American guard Dee Brown to zero field goals through the first 25 minutes of the game. Brown missed two lay-ups in the contest and was visibly upset with both his play and what he deemed to be poor officiating. It was really the first such show of emotion that I can recall out of Brown.
It was Illinois second regular season loss over the course of its last 60-plus games, so Brown has not had much reason to complain to the officials.
There may have been some calls that went Iowa's way, but it wasn't all the officials; Iowa's perimeter defense was outstanding for much of the contest.
Iowa also had its way in the paint against an Illinois team that has transformed from being guard dominated to muscling people around inside. Iowa outscored Illinois in the paint in this game and was +13 on the glass, including +6 on the offensive glass.
James Augustine was the lone Illini player to register in double figures for the Illini, with Brown being held to just six points on 2-13 shooting, including 1-10 from three. He also had five turnovers to just three assists. Heralded shooter and true freshman Jamar Smith was 3-11 from the floor.
Iowa didn't exactly light up the box score with its shooting prowess; Horner and Adam Haluska combined to make just 6-21 from the floor, but Iowa's big advantage in this game came from the line. Iowa made 24 free throws to Illinois' seven; Illinois was called for 24 personal fouls to Iowa's 13.
15,500 fans showed up for the game, with a few thousand Illini fans sprinkled amongst the Carver-Hawkeye faithful. But the Iowa crowd was definitely into this contest from start to finish.
Iowa had a 10 point lead midway through the second half, only to see Illinois cut it to three with just over eight minutes remaining. In years past, this is where Iowa has buckled after having an opponent on the ropes. But the Hawks went on an 8-1 run of their own and hit its final eight free throws to ice the contest.
The win leveled Iowa's Big Ten record at 1-1 having played two ranked foes to start conference play. When you looked at the schedule before the season began and then again this last week, you hoped that Iowa could somehow split the two games.
It did, and with Illinois beating Michigan State on its home court Thursday night, and both teams playing two games in two days, this was a huge win for Iowa.
With a trip to Penn State and a home game against Minnesota up next for Iowa, there is an excellent chance that Iowa will be 3-1 in league when they travel to East Lansing to face Michigan State on 1/21. After that, it's home contests against very good teams from Indiana and Ohio State; there are few easy outs in Big Ten play this year.
That's why these next two games are critical for Iowa to build its NCAA tournament resume. Iowa had an RPI rating of 16 prior to the win against the Illini, a team that had an RPI of seven entering the game. Iowa's strength of schedule was 13th in the nation, a mark that will go up this week.
One has to imagine that a Big Ten record of at least 8-8 would be good enough for an invite to the big dance, especially in a year where the Big Ten will be ranked as the toughest league in the nation.
Get to 3-1 to start the year, and it will give Iowa some breathing room for the daunting challenges that await them.