Iowa men’s basketball outlasts Illinois

The Hawkeyes defeated the Illini, 81-79, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday afternoon.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa guards Payton Sandfort and Josh Dix celebrate after a men’s basketball game between Iowa and Illinois at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Illini, 81-79.

Chris Werner, Assistant Sports Editor

The Iowa men’s basketball team defeated Illinois, 81-79, Saturday afternoon at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. 

After a back-and-forth first half that featured six lead changes, Iowa trailed, 36-35.

Out of halftime, the Hawkeyes took a three-point lead in the first minute of action, but Illinois closed the gap.

The Illini took a 41-39 lead with 18 minutes remaining and would hold the advantage for the next 9:30 until Hawkeye sophomore guard Payton Sandfort hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 62. 

With the game knotted at 76 seven minutes later, Sandfort would hit another three to put Iowa ahead for good.

Iowa junior forward Kris Murray — who scored 19 points Saturday — said after Sandfort hit the go-ahead three, a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena was “as loud as I’ve ever heard it.”

While Sandfort hit big threes, Iowa junior guard Tony Perkins was scoring from everywhere else.

Perkins’ big night

The 6-foot-4 Indianapolis native converted 15 of his 16 free-throw attempts, missing only his final try and tying the school record for consecutive makes from the charity stripe. 

Perkins converted eight of 11 shots from the field and netted a career-high 32 points, 25 of which came in the second half.

“Coach Fran just said keep attacking, keep attacking, because they were playing drop coverage,” Perkins said. “‘So just come off [the screen] the big man is going to come up, throw it to Filip [Rebraca] or just attack the big man, draw fouls.’”

Fantastic free throws

Perkins wasn’t the only Hawkeye to excel from the foul line on Saturday. 

Iowa missed four of its 30 foul shots — 25 of which came in the second half. By comparison, Illinois made 18 of 23 from the stripe. 

“[Free throws are] so critical in this league because every game is like this one,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “You’re either on the winning end or the losing end, not a lot of blowouts. I don’t care who’s playing who. So you want to manage the game in a way that you can get to the free throw line.”

Murray, who went 7-of-9 from the line, said his team spends a lot of time practicing free throws. 

“We shoot free throws for 15 minutes straight after every practice,” Murray said. “We know we are a good free throw shooting team. We’ve been shooting them good all year. 

Following an uncharacteristic 6-of-13 performance from the line at Michigan State on Jan. 26, the Hawkeyes have shot a combined 73-for-86 at the line during their three-game winning streak — good for 85 percent. 

Ball security key

Iowa only committed two turnovers in the second half against Illinois after five in the first 20 minutes. 

McCaffery said his team’s 14-7 edge in turnovers helped compensate for Illinois’ 37-26 rebound advantage. 

“It’s absolutely critical with the way [Illinois] rebounds,” McCaffery said. “They’re as good a rebounding team as there is in the country, out-rebound us by 11. If you turn them 14 times and you only turn it seven, it kind of gives you a chance, it kind of evens it a little bit.”

Big picture

With the victory, Iowa moves to 15-8 overall and 7-5 in league play. After the Hawkeyes lost their first three conference games of the season, the Black and Gold have won seven of their last nine Big Ten games. 

“Going 0-3 to start conference play, some people might put their heads down, and that never happened with our team,” Murray said. “Chemistry never wavered we just kept picking up each other … We got it going in February last year and we’re trying to do it this year too. Seven out of nine is really good, especially in the Big Ten.”

Up next

The Hawkeyes will take on No. 1 Purdue on Thursday in West Lafayette. The 21-2 Boilermakers boast 7-foot-4 Player of the Year candidate Zach Edey, who is averaging 22 points and 13 rebounds per contest this year. 

Purdue took its second loss of the season, 79-74, to Indiana on Saturday.