CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP)—Dominique Keller was embarrassed, and Illinois coach Bruce Weber was so disgusted he sent his team home early from practice.
Imagine how they would have felt had the Fighting Illini lost to Iowa.
Mike Tisdale scored 18 points and No. 19 Illinois rebounded from its worst offensive showing in more than two decades by hanging on to beat the Hawkeyes 62-54 on Sunday.
Held to their lowest point total in 24 years in a 59-36 loss at Minnesota on Thursday, the Fighting Illini barely beat the Big Ten’s 10th place team. Even so, their relief was as obvious as any dunk—or missed shot. And there were plenty at times.
“Today was big,” said Keller, who scored 12. “We had a hard loss to Minnesota and it was embarrassing. I’m glad we came out and played well. Every game is important to win a Big Ten championship and that’s our ultimate goal.”
A 3-pointer by Jeff Peterson with 18 seconds left pulled Iowa within 58-54, but Tisdale and Mike Davis each hit two free throws as the Illini (18-4, 6-3 Big Ten) sent the Hawkeyes (12-10, 2-7) to their sixth loss in seven games. Illinois is trying to build some momentum for the postseason, and it simply couldn’t afford to stumble again after that miserable showing against Minnesota.
“I tried to stay positive,” Weber said.
And he did just that on Friday.
On Saturday? His mood was anything but cheery.
Weber was so disgusted by what he saw in practice that he cut it short, but this performance left him in a better mood even if it had its rough spots.
“The second half was hopefully more characteristic of what we’ve done all season,” he said.
The Illini hit nine of their first 10 shots in the half to turn a 25-22 deficit into an eight-point lead, with Keller’s three-point play making it 46-38 with 11:39 left, but the Hawkeyes would not go quietly.
They responded by scoring seven straight, but Chester Frazier put back his own missed 3-pointer and Calvin Brock added back-to-back baskets to boost the lead to 52-45, and the Illini hung on from there.
“A lot of teams come on the road and can beat you,” Frazier said. “It’s a tough league this year. There are really no upsets. Teams people think should win aren’t and isn’t going to be as easy. This is a tough league top to bottom this year.”
Tisdale hit 7 of 8 shots, while Keller converted 5 of 8. And the Illini wound up 23-for-48 after an icy first half (10-for-28)—a big improvement over the previous game, when they were 15-for-51.
Demetri McCamey chipped in with nine points and seven assists. Mike Davis grabbed 10 rebounds as the Illini dominated the glass, 35-22.
Weber called that “a miracle,” considering Minnesota outrebounded Illinois 44-29. Then again, Iowa was again missing its top inside presence, with a high ankle sprain sideline Cyrus Tate for the sixth straight game.
Peterson led the Hawkeyes with 12 points, and they got 10 apiece from Matt Gatens and Jarryd Cole, who did all his scoring in the first half. But the Hawkeyes couldn’t sustain the momentum they built heading into the intermission, and suffered their third single-digit loss in this skid.
“It’s real depressing,” Cole said. “We control the game most of the time. We have control. We just let up at certain times and we can’t do that.”
Illinois led 19-15 after a jumper by Keller with 9:56 left in the first half but went more than five minutes without a point and made just 1 of 12 shots the rest of the way as Iowa took a three-point lead to the break. Whether it was layups, tip-ins or jumpers, the Illini couldn’t convert in the half and the big shot that went in at the end got waved off.
McCamey had just hit a free throw with 1.7 seconds left in the half when Frazier stole the inbounds pass and buried an apparent 3-pointer from the left. That drew a roar from the crowd, but the cheers turned to groans moments later when the referees waved it off after a review.
“I guess we should have tried to sneak out at halftime,” Iowa coach Todd Lickliter said.