I despise Assembly Hall in Illinois. It has been the worst house of horrors for the Iowa basketball team during my lifetime.
Iowa has won just one game at Illinois since my all time favorite Iowa basketball game, the epic comeback in Champaign in 1977 when the Hawks were down 22 with just under 16 minutes to play before coming back to win in overtime.
Prior to Sunday’s game, Iowa had not won there since 1999. In the ten empty trips to Assembly Hall, Iowa’s margin of defeat was 11.2 points per game. The Hawks lost 64-53 on Sunday, so you could say were right on their average.
This one stings quite a bit. It took away Iowa’s remote chances of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. They didn’t have much of a chance to begin with, but there was still a shot. Now, Iowa’s only shot will be winning four games in four days at the Big Ten Tournament.
It also stings because this Illini team was one of the more beatable of the last 15 years. They came into this contest having lost eight of their last nine, their head coach all but gone and their team having given up.
The one thing you couldn’t do against a team that had seemingly stopped caring was to just hand things to them, which is what Iowa did. The Hawks committed 17 turnovers, including nine in the first half. They shot just 36.7% from the floor, too.
It’s not like Illinois was a house of fire, as they shot just over 42% and had 18 turnovers. But they were more hungry on the boards (+8) and were in Matt Gatens face the entire night, if not in his uniform.
Still, Gatens scored 15 first half points. He was 5-5 from three-point range before missing his last attempt, which was ironically the most open shot he had all night and didn’t come with a hand on his person. Gatens led Iowa with 22 points in 40 minutes.
Devyn Marble was the only other Hawkeye to score in double figures as he had 10, but he also had a tough night handling the ball with six turnovers, including two on in bounds plays where he gave the ball away far too carelessly. Josh Oglesby had nine and Aaron White had eight.
The Hawkeyes fall to 15-14 with the loss, 7-9 in Big Ten play. The best seed they can get in the Big Ten tournament is a seven, given that Indiana and Purdue are 9-7 and would win the tiebreaker with Iowa.
Yet, the Hawks can still finish the regular season with a winning record for the first time in five years with a win in one of their final two games; Wednesday at Nebraska and/or Saturday at home against Northwestern. Iowa has four wins in February, something just two Iowa teams have done in the past 14 years. They could be the first Iowa team to hit five wins in February since the 1997-1998 Iowa team.
The Iowa-Nebraska game will tip off at 8pm central on Wednesday