CHAMPAIGN — When Iowa and Illinois met Sunday afternoon, it was clear which was the Big Ten leader and which sat in the bottom half of the standings.
The Hawkeyes improved their conference-leading league record to 10-1 with a 77-65 win over the Fighting Illini at the State Farm Center.
Once again, the Illini playing without their starting big men — Mike Thorne Jr. and Leron Black have sat on the bench in street clothes for almost the entire season — allowed a surging group of Hawkeyes to dominate the rebounding battle. Iowa out-rebounded Illinois, 43-32, and put up a jaw-dropping amount of second-chance points, scoring 26 on 12 offensive rebounds. The Illini barely out-rebounded the Hawkeye duo of Jarrod Uthoff and Adam Woodbury, who combined for 26 boards.
Illinois struggled on both ends of the floor in the first half, shooting just 34.4 percent from the field and not making a basket inside the 3-point line in the game’s first 11 and a half minutes. The Illini did shoot the 3-ball well, going 6-for-13 from deep and getting three long balls from Jalen Coleman-Lands.
But the Illini’s first-half defense left plenty to be desired. At one point, the Hawkeyes used a 12-0 run to build a double-digit lead, and despite that gap shrinking as small as four, it was back out to double digits before long. Iowa benefitted from dominance down low (14 points in the paint) and particularly on the offensive glass, grabbing six offensive rebounds and turning them into 12 second-chance points. The Hawkeyes out-rebounded the Illini, 25-14, in the opening 20 minutes, Uthoff grabbing eight of those and Woodbury hauling in six.
[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Fighting Illini gear right here]
Despite all that, it was just a nine-point deficit at the break, but Iowa created separation quickly. Peter Jok started the second half with a fast break layup, a 3-pointer and a steal and dunk that put the Hawkeyes up by 12 and forced an Illini timeout. By the time seven minutes had elapsed since halftime, the Iowa edge was 19. A few minutes later, a Dom Uhl 3 sent the lead to a game-high 20, and Illinois didn’t get any closer than 10 the rest of the way.
Iowa finished shooting 43.1 percent. Illinois finished shooting 39.4 percent on the afternoon.
Jok led the way for the Hawkeyes, scoring 23 points, his seventh game of at least 20 points this season. Uthoff, Woodbury and Anthony Clemmons were all also in double figures with 18, 10 and 10 points, respectively. Uthoff and Woodbury each tallied double-doubles with their terrific rebounding efforts.
Coleman-Lands’ 17 points were the most by an Illinois player, with Malcolm Hill adding 14 and Maverick Morgan scoring 10 points.
The win sent the fifth-ranked Hawkeyes to 19-4 on the season and 10-1 in conference play. After Indiana’s loss at Penn State on Saturday night, Iowa sits alone in first place in the league standings. Next up is a big Thursday-night showdown against those Hoosiers.
The Illini dropped to 11-13 overall and 3-8 in the Big Ten with the loss. Next comes a trip to Northwestern next weekend.