CHICAGO — Illinois saw its 2019 Big Ten Tournament run come to an end after sputtering in the second half in a 83-62 loss at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes on Thursday night at the United Center in Chicago.
In a game built on each team ripping off big runs, it was a 23-5 Hawkeyes run in the second half that did the Illini in.
Despite the game being played in the biggest city in Illinois, it was Iowa who enjoyed the semblance of a home-court advantage. But despite the plethora of Hawkeye black and gold in the stands, the Illini went stride-for-stride in the first 20 minutes, trailing 36-31 at the half.
But a sluggish start to the second half for the Illini, including a defensive possession that saw them pile up five fouls, deflated any hopes of a second-straight comeback win after Thursday’s come-from-behind overtime win against Northwestern. Iowa caught fire from three, and the Illini could not keep up.
The Illini defense could not contest the Hawkeyes’ 3-point attempts, as Iowa went wild from beyond the arc, knocking down 12-of-23 3-pointers (52 percent)
The Illini shot 52 percent from the field on the game and won the rebounding battle by one, but they also committed 15 turnovers and shot just four free-throws, making a pair.
After a monster game in Wednesday’s overtime victory over Northwestern, freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili had a much quieter game Thursday fouling out with 4:12 left in the game and finishing with 12 points and six rebounds. Bezhanishvili led the Illini in both of those categories.
Cameron Baer led the Hawkeyes with 17 points and four rebounds in 17 minutes of action on a squad that Illini coach Brad Underwood credited after the game.
“Commend Iowa,” Underwood said. “They were the better basketball team tonight.”
Just as the Iowa talent did not go unnoticed by Underwood, Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery was impressed with what he saw from the Illini in their season-ending defeat.
“They have some really good young players,”McCaffery said. “It’s gonna be tough year in and year out from now on.”
The Illini finished the season with an overall record of 12-20 and a Big Ten record of 7-13. Neither of these numbers are where Underwood would like them to be in his second season, and even though the team made huge strides during the regular season, there is improvement to be made.
But if this season is any indicator, the Illini will be a formidable force in the coming years. The Illini’s young core, which featured a pair of the Big Ten’s best freshmen in Ayo Dosunmu (10 points and six assists) and Giorgi Bezhanishvilli (team-high 12 points and six rebounds), figures to largely remain in tact.
“This is the beginning of bringing Illinois basketball back,” Underwood said.