Hawkeyes lose double-bye despite comeback attempt

Iowa nearly secured a double-bye with a late comeback against Illinois on Sunday, but the Hawkeyes will have to go without it.


Emily Wangen

Iowa center Luka Garza is blocked by Illinois Center Kofi Cockburn during a game against the University of Illinois on Sunday, March, 8, 2020 at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Illinois. The Hawkeyes lost to the Fighting Illini, 76-78. (Emily Wangen/The Daily Iowan)

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Iowa’s Big Ten Tournament fate was in its own hands on Sunday.

After Ohio State downed Illinois on March 5, the Hawkeyes just needed to beat the Illini in the regular-season finale in Champaign to secure a double-bye.

They couldn’t finish the job.

A strong second half propelled the Illini to a 78-76 victory over the Hawkeyes, forcing Iowa to play its first game of the tournament on Thursday.

“It was going to be great to have that double-bye, but now the game’s over,” Iowa guard Joe Toussaint said. “We’ve got to move on.”

After an even first half that saw the Hawkeyes outplay the Illini for the majority of the period, Illinois broke through in the final 20 minutes.

The Illini led by as many as 16 in the second half, but Iowa kept fighting.

Connor McCaffery drained two triples late in the half, and Bakari Evelyn added another with just over two minutes remaining.

In the final minute, Garza buried a bucket down low to cut the Illini lead to two. After Iowa got a stop, McCaffery missed a shot as he drove in toward the hoop. Iowa received another opportunity with 1.6 seconds remaining when Illinois touched the ball as it went out of bounds.

Logically, the Hawkeyes drew up a play for their All-American candidate.

With no time to take a dribble or make a move, Luka Garza went up for the shot right away. Blocked by Kofi Cockburn. Goodbye, double-bye.

“I’ve already replayed the play in my head a million times since the game ended,” Garza said. “I just wish it was a little bit more time. If I had the ability to put it on the ground one time, I would’ve scored it 100 percent. He was on my left side. I would’ve had a jump hook in the middle. It’s unfortunate, but it was the situation we were in.”

Iowa closed its regular season by dropping its final two games. Rebounding played a key role in both losses.

The Hawkeyes allowed 21 offensive rebounds and got out-rebounded 47-33 in their loss to Purdue on March 3. Illinois nabbed 12 offensive boards on Sunday despite the fact that Iowa out-rebounded it 32-30.

Iowa’s difficulties in pulling down rebounds didn’t help in the Illini’s second-half run.

“I thought we were getting stops — we just couldn’t rebound,” McCaffery said. “When you’re in zone, it’s harder to rebound sometimes because you don’t necessarily have a designated guy to box out… As athletic as those guys are, it’s going to be tough to keep them off the glass if they’re running in uncontested.”

Iowa has officially earned the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten Tournament where it will face the winner of the matchup between No. 12 seed Minnesota and No. 13 seed Northwestern.

It will need to bounce back to make a run. But after the last two games, the Hawkeyes know what they’re up against.

“Double-bye or not, the mindset stays the same,” Iowa guard CJ Fredrick said. “It’s tournament time, so you’re going to get everybody’s best… At this point, you have to play your best basketball if you want to win.”