After-thoughts from Iowa’s 96-87 victory over Illinois in the Big Ten tournament:
--Despite the high point totals, Iowa’s defense looked better in the first half than it has in almost any game this season. Illinois scored just five points in the first eight minutes or so and Illini star Leron Black never did get going, finishing with four points. The Hawkeyes also held down Trent Frazier, holding him to only two points in the first half although that allowed other players — especially Kipper Nichols — to have their way.
--The Hawkeyes’ 3-point defense? Still bad. Illinois, which isn’t reputed to be a great perimeter shooting team, tossed in 14 3s in 30 attempts. Four of Iowa’s last five opponents have knocked down a dozen or more 3-pointers and in the past seven games teams are shooting 44.8 percent from 3-point range against them.
--I have a feeling Illinois fans probably feel the same way about Nichols that Iowa fans do about Isaiah Moss. You can see the potential is almost limitless but the effort and production are only there some of the time in some of the games. The 6-foot-6 sophomore poured in 31 points Wednesday but in the previous three games he sometimes seemed disinterested and scored only 15 points.
--Wednesday’s game had a lot of statistical similarities to the Hawkeyes’ 104-97 win over the Illini during the regular season. In that earlier game, Iowa made 33 of 40 free throws. On Wednesday, it made 34 of 41. In that Jan. 11 matchup, Jordan Bohannon (29), Tyler Cook (21) and Luka Garza (19) combined for 69. On Wednesday, the same trio went for 64 as Bohannon scored 25, Garza 20 and Cook 19.
--Ahmad Wagner has played very little for the Hawkeyes lately but he came off the bench to make some very important contributions Wednesday. He only played seven minutes but had three points, three rebounds and two assists. With Illinois making a serious run at the lead in the middle of the second half, Wagner rebounded a missed free throw by Cook and fired it out to Bohannon for a wide-open 3 that made it 68-61. Wagner hurt his knee with 7 minutes, 43 seconds to go and did not return, but it did not appear to be a serious injury.
--Rebounding clearly was the big difference in the game. The Hawkeyes had a 40-20 advantage on the boards and in the second half it was 24-10. They had as many offensive rebounds after halftime as the Illini had total rebounds.
--A big part of that rebounding differential was the 6-foot-11 Garza, who didn’t look like a freshman in the spotlight of Madison Square Garden. He made several big baskets when the Illini were scrambling to get back in the game and outhustled a couple of Illinois players to get down the court for a game-clinching dunk with 34 seconds to go. He seems to be getting better and better with each passing game.
--With five more 3-point field goals Wednesday, Bohannon now has 93, which ties for the second best single-season total in Iowa history. Justin Johnson also had 93 in 2008. The school record is still a long way off — 117 by Chris Kingsbury in 1995.
--Iowa’s 96 points were just one short of the Big Ten tournament single-game record set by Maryland against Nebraska in 2016. Interestingly, either Iowa or Illinois has been involved in eight of the nine highest scoring games in the tournament’s history.