CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP)—James Augustine was so nervous that he airballed his first free throw. Dee Brown was 2-of-12 from the field.
It wasn’t exactly the way Illinois’ two senior stars wanted to play in their final home game. But their teammates came to the rescue and the eighth-ranked Illini beat No. 20 Iowa 71-59 Saturday.
“They both had special careers here so we wanted to send them out with a bang on their last night at Assembly Hall,” said Rich McBride, who scored 15 points to lead the Illini (23-5, 9-5) and keep them in the hunt for a third straight Big Ten championship.
Iowa (20-8, 9-5) lost its second straight for the first time in conference play and fell out of first place for the first time since Jan. 30. The Hawkeyes fell into a second-place tie with Illinois, one game behind Ohio State, which defeated Michigan 64-54 earlier Saturday.
“We’ve been in first place for almost six weeks. That’s a heck of a stretch,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “We’re 20-8 and 9-5 in the best conference in the country and we have two big home games left.”
Illinois coach Bruce Weber said it was fitting that Brown and Augustine went out with a win.
“They’re two pretty special players,” he said. “If we wouldn’t have found a way to win, it would have been a bad ending to a special career for those guys here in Assembly Hall.”
Augustine and Brown got a standing ovation when they came out of the game in the final minute and they spoke to the sellout crowd of 16,618, many of whom were wearing Brown’s No. 11 jersey, afterward.
“You mean so much to me,” Brown told the fans. “When someone wears my number, I think it represents our whole team. My teammates make me better. My coaches make me better.”
It was the 111th victory for Brown and Augustine, breaking the school record they shared with Nick Smith, who set it last season.
Brian Randle scored 13 points for Illinois, Augustine recovered from foul trouble to score 12 points and grab seven rebounds, and the bench outscored Iowa’s reserves 17-6.
“The bench did a great job. The other starters did an unbelievable job just to make our night special,” Augustine said. “I think they consciously wanted to go out there and play hard for us, and to win another game in the conference.”
Augustine spent nearly 16 minutes of the first half on the bench with two fouls and picked up his third just 33 seconds into the second half. Weber said there was no thought to take him out.
“I didn’t even flinch,” he said.
While Augustine was on the bench, the Illini got some strong inside play from reserves Marcus Arnold and Warren Carter. Arnold scored nine points, Carter had five and freshman Jamar Smith hit a 3-pointer.
Brown scored only six points but he dished out nine assists.
“I didn’t make shots. I was thinking too much,” Brown said. “I’m going to continue to fire and do my job as far as being a point guard. We came out with a win so I’m happy.”
Greg Brunner scored 27 points for the Hawkeyes, but the Illini defense held Iowa’s other highest scorers down. Jeff Horner scored 11 and Adam Haluska scored only three, missing five of his six shots.
“It was almost like they wanted (Brunner) to score, and as long as they shut us down, they were fine,” Horner said.
The Illini led 34-29 at the break and put together a 14-9 run to start the second half. Randle’s basket made it 48-38 with 13:35 to go. Iowa closed to within 48-42, but an inside basket from Arnold and a long 3 from Brown pushed the Illinois lead back to nine and Illinois eventually opened a 63-47 lead.
“For whatever reason, on the road our defense has not been nearly as good as it’s been at home,” Alford said. “We’re going to have to get back to that because we’re really going to have to guard these last two games to give ourselves a chance.”
Iowa finishes the regular season with home games against Penn State and Wisconsin. Illinois goes on the road for games at Minnesota and Michigan State.