The Illinois Fighting Illini and Iowa Hawkeyes met on Wednesday night in a battle of bubble teams. Both teams are on the cusps of getting an invite to the big dance, or playing in the NIT. This game also featured two evenly matched teams. We knew this one was going to be fun to watch.
This was a back and forth game from the start. Neither team was able to create separation in the early going. Iowa went into the half with a narrow 33-32 lead. The Hawkeyes were able to pull away some in the 2nd half thanks to an 11-3 run fueled by Aaron White. The Hawkeyes didn't let the Fighting Illini steal the momentum back and were able to close out the game 68-60.
What We Learned
Iowa can play dominating defense
Illinois is far from being an offensive juggernaut, but that doesn't take away from how impressive Iowa's defense was. The Hawkeyes held the fighting Illini to 33% shooting from the floor. There were no Fighting Illini players that shot over 50% from the floor themselves. The Hawkeyes did an excellent job of holding Malcolm Hill to only 2 points on 1-10 shooting. At the end of the day Iowa's defense was just too much for Illinois to handle.
Illinois needs Malcolm Hill and Rayvonte Rice on the top of their game to beat good defenses
Malcolm Hill's game has really stepped up in conference play. He did an excellent job filling Rice's shoes when he was out because of suspension. Hill had easily his worst game of the season on Wednesday night. He finished with 2 points on 1-10 shooting. Rice had a solid game, but we found out Illinois can't beat a good defensive team like Iowa when your 2nd scoring option is having a rough game.
Adam Woodbury seems to have at least one hard foul a game
On Wednesday night, Rayvonte Rice was the recipient of the latest physical Adam Woodbury foul. Woodbury wrapped Rice up around the shoulders when he was driving to the basket in the beginning of the 2nd half. It wasn't a dirty play, just the typical hard foul you would expect from the Iowa center.
Ahmad Starks can light up the scoreboard
Starks was Illinois best scoring option on Wednesday night. He finished with 19 points and was 5 of 9 from behind the arc. Wednesday night matched his season high of 19 points. It was an impressive day for the senior. If Starks, Rice, and Hill can all be on their games at the same time, this team would be tough to beat. However, that's an awfully big if.
Aaron White can take control of games
The game was up for grabs until White took charge. The senior took over the game for the Hawkeyes and scored 14 consecutive Hawkeye points in the 2nd half. He had a career high point total on Wednesday night with 29 points on 8 of 13 shooting. He did a great job of establishing his shot, and an inside game. White was the only Hawkeye in double figures, but that didn't matter on Wednesday night. I've said it before, but Iowa will only go as far as White can take them. That proved to be the case against Illinois.
This would've been a solid win for Illinois if they could've found a way to get the job done. You can't afford to lose many games when you're on the bubble like Illinois is. That being said this wasn't a devastating loss. Illinois has 2 winnable home games coming up against Northwestern and Nebraska.
This was a solid win for Iowa. The Hawkeyes haven't been the most consistent team in Big Ten play, but they're playing good basketball at the right time. We'll see if they can close out the season with this momentum and carry it into tournament play.