ORANGE CRUSH: Much like last season a prominent amount of Illini fans entered enemy territory on Saturday. It's hard to say exactly how many orange shirts were present, but a few estimates placed it at about 3,000.
The Illinois faithful wasn't relegated to the nosebleed sections of Carver, either. Many of them sat in the high-rent district reserved for the big donors, and there were even a few in the comp section used mainly for the families and friends of Iowa players.
It would be interesting to find out how the opposing fans scored such good tickets. You probably could come with a few scenarios. There also were Illinois fans in the Iowa student section, which deserved a lot of credit for coming out in force.
Iowa announced the game as a sellout (15,500), but there were several hundred empty seats.
GETTING DEFENSIVE: Iowa mixed its defenses, especially early, in an attempt to keep the Illini from finding a rhythm. The Hawkeyes employed a 1-2-2 halfcourt trap, falling back into a 2-3 zone. They also used a 1-2-2 full court trap that fell into a 1-2-2 zone.
Illinois scored just 19 first-half points, its lowest total for a half this season, besting the 24 it netted against Coppin State. The Illini shot just 8 of 27 (29.6 percent) from the floor before the intermission. Leading scorer Dee
Brown scored just one point, missing several lay-ups and all six of his shots from the floor in the opening 20 minutes. The teams combined to shoot 2 of 18 from beyond the arc in the opening half, including 1 of 12 for the Illini.
Iowa struggled, at times, with its man-to-man alignment, allowing dribble penetration, but Illinois couldn't capitalize in the opening half. Illinois continued to struggle after halftime, and the visitors totaled their fewest points in a game this season. Their previous low had been 55 against Wichita State.
FOUL BALL: Illinois forward James Augustine picked up his second foul and headed to the bench with 9:55 remaining in the first half. He played just eight minutes in the first half.
Augustine picked up his third foul with 18:15 showing on the second half clock, but Weber decided to leave his big man in there. Sure enough, he picked up his fourth around the 14-minute mark and headed to the bench.
Weber brought Augustine back with 11:08 remaining and Iowa holding a 41-31 lead. Five Illinois players picked up two first-half fouls, and the Illini committed 12 fouls before the intermission, which doubled Iowa's total. The Hawkeyes enjoyed the bonus for the final 10:31 of the first half.
CRUNCH TIME: Here are some big plays down the stretch -
With the shot clock running down, Hansen dropped in a key baseline jumper with a little over four minutes left and the Illinois defense shading toward the Hawkeye scorers.
With about 2:50 on the clock, Brunner got himself caught in the right corner and threw an awkward pass out to Horner, who picked the ball up on a short hop like a baseball infielder. Horner passed to Haluska, who was fouled and sank 1 of 2 free throws for a 50-42 Iowa lead.
At the 2:12 mark, Horner drove and found Brunner for an easy two-handed jam. On Illinois' next possession, Horner stole the ball which resulted in Mike Henderson's driving pull-up J and a 54-43 lead.
Horner connected on 7 of 8 free throw attempts in the final minute to seal the deal.
TIP-INS: Henderson and Hansen scored eight of Iowa's first 11 points… …Rick Majerus served at the color man for ESPN…Some of the Iowa students wore T-shirts that read "At least our mascot isn't banned" on the back…Iowa opened the second half on a 7-2 run, capped by a Haluska trey that prompted Illinois into a timeout at the 16:26 mark…Iowa defeated the Illini at home for the first time in the last three meetings, avoiding becoming just the second Hawkeyes group to lose three times in a row to Illinois at home…The Iowa student rushed the floor to celebrate the victory with their team. Brunner, Thomas and Reed were in the middle.
Opening Statement: I obviously couldn't be any more proud of happy for our group of young men. They really battled. I thought both teams really played hard. But we made plays. That's trying to get over the hump. At Wisconsin, we allowed our inability to make shots affect our defense. That's all we talked about, really, in this short turnaround. In fact, we told then that we don't care if you shoot 25 percent in this game just make sure you guard the way that we've been guarding. Unfortunately, in the first half, we shot 25 percent. (laughter) I wasn't really hoping we were going to do that. I did think we guarded. We really defended for 40 minutes. That's our personality. That's our staple of this team. We're in this thing now 16 games and that's going to be our staple. There are going to be games where we make shots. There's going to be games like tonight where we shoot 35 percent. But if you can beat a team that hadn't been beaten and ranked really in the Top 5 in the country shooting 35 percent by 15, it speaks volumes of your defense. We were really good defensively.
What was your plan on Dee and what did you guys do?
He obviously was coming off a tremendous effort (against Michigan State). He's got great class. He came up to me before the game and I just told him, "This is it. You're not coming back again. Don't try doing something different and try coming back for another year." He's one of those guys that's fun to compete against because he plays with so much passion. And Dee is going to get everybody's best effort because of who he is. It was a great team effort, but we really wanted to alternate Mike and Tony and just try to wear him. We know how physical Michigan State is. Even when you get 34, playing a team like Michigan State can wear on you a little bit. The quick turnaround probably affected him a little bit, but Mike and Tony had a lot to do with it as well.
Steve, did you see this coming?
I've never lost confidence in this team. We played really, really poorly in the second half against Wisconsin. We were up at half not shooting the ball well there. The positive coming out of here is I know how good Illinois is. To beat a team the way that we beat them today and defend…we can guard anybody. Now, we've just got to get some confidence with making some shots. We're getting close. We didn't start the game. It looked like the Wisconsin second half our first half. But as long as the defense stays constant, we're going to be in there late in the game and have a chance. Against Ilinois in the last couple of years, we've been right there and haven't gotten over the hump in the last 4-minute game. Tonight, we were able to do that.
With so many teams bunched going into the league race, do you expect it to be a lot of games like this?
Yeah, I think most of the coaches said that during the Big Ten media day that you've got 11 teams…you've got Purdue who is just getting an injury every day that they've got to be concerned with and they almost pulled it off in Ann Arbor today. It's going to be a fight every night out. We know that. This was a very emotional win. So, yeah, we'd like to play again, but our guys deserve a weekend to enjoy a very big win. We're thankful we've got a week to get ready for Penn State. Everybody in the league respects one another and every night out, home or on the road, is going to be a dogfight.
You guys started the second half strong. How big of a key was that?
I've always thought that the first and last four minutes of each half are crucial. You've got to win those 4-minute games; set the tone each half, and then obviously finish. Our problem has been more of a finishing product. We finished really well to end the half. Our last four minutes of the game was as good as we've been all year. We did a lot of good things.
Erek Hansen made some very important plays for you.
Erek is underappreciated if that's a good word for him. But nobody appreciates him more than myself, our coaching staff and his teammates of what he does for our team. He blocks shots. He changes shots. He changes how you attack us inside. He changes how guards penetrate and see him. And, he's making his shots. He's really getting in a good rhythm and making shots and scoring. That's going to be big for us, getting that other post guy that can score.
Slowing down Dee, what does that do to help Jeff in running the team?
Fortunately it worked. Dee is s big part of what they do. When Dee is on and doing his thing, it makes all of them better. Case in point tonight, Augustine is talented enough and he's a senior that he can continue to play. These other guys that are young and don't have the experience, they really need Dee. We really just tried to focus on that. It worked this time. We know we've got to play them again. They're a great, great basketball team that won an awful lot of games together. So, we're just thankful and grateful we were able to fight and get a win.
How about Jeff's performance?
I'll tell you what, Jeff does all of those intangibles. He gets loose balls. He makes big free throws. He'll be the first one of the floor. He rebounds. He had a game-high six assists. He just does all of those little things that give you a chance to win in the end.
Can you be more specific on what Mike brings defensively?
He's a strong, power point guard. He's someone that has great strength and weight to him. He's got good quickness. And, he enjoys defending. He and Tony really enjoy defending and they understand their role on this team. It probably isn't going to be the leading scorer, but you're going to have the opportunity every night to go guard the opponent's leading scorer. They took that role very well. But we also wanted Mike tonight to drive the ball. He did a great job all night, but he really figured it out late in the game. He made a big basket in Four Low. Both Tony and Mike are strong for guys that are 6-1, 6-2.
You were able to get them into some foul trouble early in both halves?
Yeah, both halves we were consistent. This is a team that's very confident. They've won a lot of games. You can't play on your heals. We talked about that in the last 48 hours of rebounding from what we didn't do the in the second half at Wisconsin, gaining some confidence even out of the loss, but just really being tough-minded and making sure we're really going at them. Both halves, we got to the line. They commit 27 fouls to our 13. We were very aggressive with our offense.
What did you think of the crowd?
The crowd was super. It's Big Ten play. We understand that. At Wisconsin, it was a great crowd. We know that Penn State will be the same way. That's the Big Ten. We certainly appreciate our crowd. The students are on break. For the students that were able to come back, we definitely appreciate the students getting back in here and helping us. If you look at our home schedule, we've got dogfights every night at home. We're going to need that support. The crowd was tremendous at key areas of the game tonight.
You guys didn't look like yourselves. How much of that was you? How much of that was Iowa?
We just didn't play good. I talked before the game about poise, composure, a will to win. You knew with the way that the schedule was set up that both teams it was going to be hard to come back. Obviously, they're at home. They've got the advantage of the crowd. They just kind of willed themselves. We hung, hung. We didn't play good, but we hung in there. Sooner or later, it was going to catch up with us and it finally did in the second half. The way we executed on offense, for them to get an eight - , nine-point lead, that was pretty much the ballgame. The only player, maybe Sean Pruitt maybe played pretty good basketball. We had too many ticky-tack fouls. We couldn't play our guys. James (Augustine) was fine, but we have to have him in the game. After that, there wasn't much production from anybody. So, it was a learning lesson. It was such a high the other night, so much excitement. Then, we didn't do a good job responding and mentally preparing. You blame yourself as a coach. We tried to go light (Friday), but I did not see the emotion. They were so fired up for Michigan State they were sweating so much during warm-ups that they had to come in and change jerseys. There was none of that tonight. That has to be on the road. They've got to understand that's the level on preparing and mental preparation you need on the road. At home, the crowd will carry you. It was a learning lesson. And, Iowa is good. If Horner doesn't get hurt, they're in the Top 25. I don't think there is any doubt about that. It's almost like they have more of a negative feeling from their state than around the country. Around the country, teams respect them more than people in their state.
What about Dee Brown?
He had as good a night as he could have Thursday and as bad tonight. It wasn't going to be that level back to back. But, you didn't expect this. He missed lay-ups. He missed everything. He never got going. The other night, he moved without the basketball. Tonight, it didn't happen. No one moved. We stood there. It was bad. They're a good defensive team, too. The first half, we started out shooting OK when we got shots. We just didn't take care of the ball. As it got into the half, we couldn't make shots. They couldn't make them. We couldn't make them. It's just a matter of they had a little lead at half and came out and had a little spurt and then we couldn't respond.
With Dee, is that an emotional thing or an off night or what?
Again, he's human. A lot of people sometimes put the Superman jersey on him and he's human. He's a kid. Everyone is telling him how great he is. He's on every highlight for ESPN. It's DEE BROWN, DEE BROWN, DEE BROWN. It's a learning lesson for him. And also, you see the crowd at the end of the game on the floor, hopefully it shows our kids that we beat a lot of people the last couple of years so it's an emotional high for other teams. We're going to get people's best shots. It's a learning lesson. We've got to move on.
You talked this week that Iowa was too good defensively to let Dee beat them. They were going to find him. Your other guys are going to have to make plays. Are you going to have to find ways to get that going?
Yeah. And you know, you get in foul trouble. You had so many guys with two in the first half. Now, you have no rhythm. We call a play and we've got guys out of position. They don't know the play. We stand there and it looks like I'm a dummy. But we have to learn and listen. We haven't put a lot of time in on offense, and it's caught up with us. Our defense wasn't that bad. We fouled too much. They were totally different games, physically. Michigan State was a football game and three yards and a cloud of dust. Today, they weren't going to let any of that happen. We've got to adjust.