NEW YORK — Madison Square Garden has hosted prize fights that included less hard contact and blood than there was in the opening game of the Big Ten basketball tournament.
You could tell neither Iowa or Illinois was ready to have its season come to an end before the calendar turned to March.
In the end, it was the Hawkeyes who got another superb effort from Jordan Bohannon, dominated the boards and made loads of free throws to walk away with a physically taxing 96-87 victory on Wednesday at the Garden.
It was the Hawkeyes’ first Big Ten tournament victory since 2013, and it sends them into a second-round matchup with fifth-seeded Michigan at 1:30 p.m. today.
Iowa scored the second-most points any team has collected in a game in the history of the tournament.
It did it in a game that included three stoppages of play because of cuts or splotches blood on players’ jerseys, a double foul, several video reviews of hard fouls and Illinois coach Brad Underwood’s first technical foul of the season.
"That was a really tough fight for us to play them tonight," said Bohannon, who scored 25 points and made five of seven shots from 3-point range and all eight of his free throws. "We knew it was going to be a tough first round, and you've got to give them a lot of credit because they worked their butts off on the defensive end and made it really tough for us."
Freshman Luka Garza matched Bohannon by scoring 15 points in the second half and he finished with 20. Tyler Cook added 19 for the Hawkeyes (14-18), who took an early lead and held on despite repeated runs by the Illini.
"It seemed like every time we got what seemingly was a comfortable lead, it was not a comfortable lead," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "They hit a 3, get a steal, get a putback. And it was a game right up until the last possession, seemingly."
The Hawkeyes shot 56.3 percent from the field in the game and made a season-high 34 free throws in 41 attempts, but it wasn’t all about offense. They did an exceptional defensive job on forward Leron Black, who had averaged 22 points in his previous five games but finished with only four.
But they also allowed the Illini (14-18) to drain 14 3-point field goals, including five by Kipper Nichols, who finished with a career-high 31 points.
Iowa trailed for only 26 seconds in the entire game and took control with a 13-0 scoring run in the first half.
"I thought defensively Iowa was very sharp," Underwood said. "We got out of rhythm. It took us a little while to get going."
By halftime, Illinois had cut the margin to 35-31, but the Hawkeyes pushed their advantage back to 52-40 in the first 3 1/3 minutes of the second half with the help of Underwood’s technical.
Illinois closed to within two in the middle of the half before Cook scored on a drive and drew the fourth foul on Nichols. He missed the free throw, but Ahmad Wagner rebounded and pitched it back to Bohannon for a 3. When Garza scored inside the next time down the court, the Hawkeyes appeared to be safe.
They weren’t. With less than two minutes to go, Nichols drained a 3, then got a steal off the ensuing inbounds pass and drove for a 3-point play that cut the deficit to 88-83.
The Illini still had a chance after Cook missed two free throws and Bohannon was called for traveling, but they failed to capitalize. Te’Jon Lucas and Mark Alstork had Bohannon trapped along the sideline, but he somehow slipped the ball between them to Garza for a dunk that clinched the victory with 34.5 seconds remaining.
"We made the plays that were necessary to win …," McCaffery said. "I thought in the second half our decision-making and our passing and our catching and shot selection was really good, much better than the first half."
Probably the biggest statistic was the rebounding. Iowa had a 40-20 advantage on the boards, including 10 offensive rebounds in the second half.
"We got killed on the boards tonight, and I think that was the game," freshman guard Trent Frazier said.
The Hawkeyes now have a quick turnaround before playing again today against a Michigan team that defeated them twice in the regular season.
"We've got to come in here with the same mindset we did today and get the rebound, get to the glass and keep defensive intensity," Garza said.