INDIANAPOLIS — Iowa fans Bruce and Sharon McElhinney have made double-digit appearances at the Big Ten Tournament, and the Davenport residents never will forget why they keep coming back.
“Our first year we came was 2001, and we said we’d really like to just win one game,” Sharon said. “Then we ended up winning four (in four days for the tournament title). So that hooked us, and we’ve been hooked ever since.”
The McElhinneys, accompanied by friends Denny and Terri Fox (of Bettendorf) from the same church, were among the first Iowa fans to arrive at the I-Club-sponsored Hawkeye Huddle at Hard Rock Café Indianapolis on Thursday morning.
The 10:30 a.m. tipoff wasn’t conducive to tailgating, but fans’ excitement didn’t wane.
“Breakfast with the Hawkeyes,” Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said. “Tournaments are wonderful, and I love the feel of them.
“Sometimes you have to adjust your schedule, so playing a morning game is a little out of the ordinary, but it’s the same for both teams.”
Seated in the lower bowl of Bankers Life Fieldhouse behind the basket, the McElhinneys and Foxes purchased all-session passes, and they’ll get to watch the Hawkeyes play more than one game for the first time since 2006 after Iowa defeated Illinois 64-61 on Thursday.
Both couples are Carver-Hawkeye Arena season-ticket holders and are in support of the program’s direction under second-year coach Fran McCaffery.
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“Much better pace, better talent,” Terri Fox said. “It’s much more fun to watch, and it’s fun to watch the coach (intensity), too.”
Thursday’s matchup was interesting for Terri, a Havana, Ill., native and former Fighting Illini fan. Her husband, Denny, born and raised in Davenport, successfully converted Terri, decked in black and gold from head to toe.
Executive director of development Matt Henderson said the I-Club sold about 400 tickets to Thursday’s opening session, with many other fans purchasing through outside outlets. About 90 minutes before tipoff, Hard Rock Café was flooded with fans, Herky, the band and cheerleaders.
“Seeing that Carver magic come back — we’re not there yet, but you can feel it,” Barta said. “You can see it’s about ready to burst through.”