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Illinois wraps regular season with road win

Mar. 10—IOWA CITY, Iowa. — The way Sunday night's game started Illinois and Iowa might as well have met in the Quad Cities.

A sold out, but certainly not full, Carver-Hawkeye Arena, was surprisingly raucous ... as the Illini built a first-half lead that ballooned to as many as 21 points.

The home crowd was stunned silent. Terrence Shannon Jr. was carving up the Iowa defense both in transition and attacking the rim in the half court, and the Iowa fans in attendance were getting overwhelmed by the far fewer Illini faithful that showed up for the regular-season finale in Iowa City.

It didn't last. Neither did that massive Illinois lead. Iowa trimmed its deficit to 10 by halftime and made it a four-point game late in the second half before the Illini managed to fend off the Hawkeyes' extended comeback attempt for a 73-61 victory.

"Oh, 20 of these," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said after Sunday's win. "A long regular season. ... You always feel good about 14 wins in this league. It's not where we wanted to be at the top, but it's 20 games and there's always going to be some roller coaster rides throughout that process."

The double-digit victory saw Sunday's game full circle from a fan standpoint. Iowa fans started heading for the exits with roughly four minutes to play, and Illinois fans hit those that were left with chants of "NIT!" at the Hawkeyes and "I-L-L, I-N-I" for everyone left in orange and blue that reverberated around the arena.

Shannon was something of a one-man show in the first half and finished with a game-high 25 points for Illinois (23-8, 14-6 Big Ten) He got some help in the second half, with Marcus Domask scoring eight of his 11 points, Dain Dainja seven of his nine and Ty Rodgers all of his seven in the final 20 minutes. Quincy Guerrier also chipped in 14 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.

"You take what you get," Underwood said. "They had some guys that were challenged defensively. Terrence getting out early in transition, we got to the front of the rim. Ty did that, as well as Justin (Harmon) and Marcus. The threes weren't there, but give them credit for taking those away."

That scoring balance for Illinois worked to smother what turned into a one-man comeback attempt for Iowa (18-13, 10-10) in the second half. Payton Sandfort was essentially the only reason Sunday's game didn't revert back to a full-on blowout, with the Hawkeyes' scoring leader making five second-half three-pointers and scoring 19 of his team-high 23 points after halftime.

Sunday's win was Illinois' sixth on the road in the Big Ten this season — only the Boilermakers had more with seven — and kept up the Illini's streak of not losing consecutive games for the entire regular season.

Illinois will enter Big Ten tournament play next week in Minneapolis having won four of its last five games and six of eight, including road wins the last two weekends at Wisconsin and now at Iowa. The the only losses were a 90-89 late collapse at Penn State and Tuesday's 77-71 loss to Big Ten champion Purdue.

"You can never look ahead," Underwood said of the tournament. "This is a group that is focused. Whoever we draw — it could be this Iowa team again — you take every game for what they are and you leave it all on the court. Hopefully on Sunday we've got a chance to stand on the ladder and hold the trophy."