That success continued once again on Wednesday night as Iowa handed #8 ranked Illinois only their second loss of the season 68-61. This marked the third ranked opponent that Iowa has defeated this season.
Iowa (11-3, 3-0), which never trailed in the game, was extremely patient on offense, and it paid off for them, as they jumped out to a quick 10-4 lead on a lay up by 6-1 senior guard Chauncey Leslie with 14:59 remaining in the first half.
Iowa continued to work the ball around on offense and got good shots, while current Big Ten Player of the Week Illinois 6-10 senior center Brian Cook struggled offensively, as he was held scoreless for the first 7:48 of the game. Cook eventually finished with game highs in points and rebounds with 20 and 12 respectively.
The Hawkeyes continued to flow fluently on the offensive end, as they would take a 23-17 lead on a lay up by 6-9 junior center Sean Sonderleiter with 7:15 remaining in the half. Iowa used a 6-1 run over a 1:30 span to increase their lead to six.
Illinois (12-2, 2-1) would use a 10-4 run over the next 5:30 minutes to tie the game at 27-27, however a big play on the defensive end by 6-11 junior center Jared Reiner brought an abrupt end to the Fighting Illini' run. Reiner stepped into the middle of the lane and took a charge from an out of control Cook head on. The foul was Cook's third of the first half and forced him to watch the final 2:56 from the bench.
With Cook out of the game, Iowa took full advantage and used an 8-4 run to close the half.
A three pointer by 5-11 junior guard Brody Boyd started that Hawkeye run, putting Iowa up 30-27. Then with just :46 seconds remaining 6-3 freshman point guard Jeff Horner capped off the run, when he drained a three pointer giving Iowa a six point cushion at 35-29.
Iowa's run with Cook on the bench late in the half enabled them to take a 35-31 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Illinois would get within two points of the Hawkeyes three times in the second half, but Iowa was able to within stand the challenge and continued to build on their lead each time the Fighting Illini' got close.
Reiner, who was held scoreless in the first twenty minutes of play, scored and was fouled on a great pass from Leslie in the Hawkeyes secondary break with 12:09 remaining putting the Hawkeyes up 47-42.
The Hawkeyes did a great job defensively, holding Illinois' second and third leading scorers, 6-0 freshman guard Dee Brown and 6-3 senior guard Sean Harrington to a combined 11 points. The backcourt duo averaged 23.8 points combined coming into the game.
Harrington scored his only points on the night on a three pointer with 7:08 remaining drawing Illinois within two points of Iowa at 56-54, but that would be the closest the Fighting Illini would get.
On Iowa's next two possessions, the Hawkeyes would begin to drive the nails into the coffin.
With 6:42 remaining in the game, 6-7 junior forward Glen Worley used a spin move to score down low increasing Iowa's lead to 58-54.
Then after a missed Illinois shot, Horner grabbed one of his career high 11 rebounds, and found Boyd with a no look half court pass streaking behind the Fighting Illini' defense. Boyd made the lay up, and was fouled on the play. After making the free throw, Iowa's lead increased to 61-54, and you could see the dismay on the faces of the Illinois players.
However, the play that nailed the coffin shut occurred with 3:43 remaining in the game, when 6-7 freshmen forward Greg Brunner found Boyd on a backdoor pass. Boyd made an athletic move to catch the ball in mid air and make the lay up before the shot clock expired, giving the Hawkeyes a 63-56 lead.
Iowa would go 4-6 from the free throw line in the final two minutes of the game as they earned their eleventh win of the season with a convincing 68-61 victory.
Horner, who had a tremendous game, led a well balanced Hawkeye scoring attack, as he set career highs in both scoring with 16 points and rebounds with 11. Boyd came off the bench for 13 points, and Leslie added 11. Sonderleiter scored nine points, while both Reiner and Worley finished with eight points respectively. Brunner rounded out the Hawkeyes scoring with three points.
Iowa now stands atop the Big Ten Conference with a 3-0 record, along with Purdue and a surprising Michigan team.
The Hawkeyes will now hit the road for their next game, as they will travel to the Kohl Center in Madison, WI to take on the Wisconsin Badgers next Wednesday night.
HTO.com Player of the Game:
Jeff Horner 16 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists (Career highs in both points and rebounds)