Iowa had not won at Illinois in the 21th century and it appeared the Hawkeyes were going to blow a golden opportunity on Saturday night to halt an 11-game losing streak in their house of horrors.
But guard Devyn Marble scored all 17 of his points in the second half to propel No. 15 Iowa to an 81-74 win over the Fighting Illini at State Farm Arena in Champaign, Ill.
It was Iowa’s first victory at Illinois since 1999 and just its second since 1987.
The Hawkeyes, coming off a 71-69 overtime loss at home to Michigan State on Tuesday night, opened a big first-half lead against the Fighting Illini and let it slip away before recovering in the final minutes.
“It would have been easy for us tonight, when they came back the way they did, to kind of fold up and go back home,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey said.
Illinois (13-9, 2-7 Big Ten) surged in front 66-61 with 9:03 left on a basket by guard Ravonte Rice. Marble answered with a 3-pointer and Iowa center Gabriel Olaseni tied the score on a layup with 7:24 left. Three free throws in the next minute by Rice kept Illinois in front 69-66.
The Hawkeyes (17-5, 6-3) went on a 7-0 run to reclaim the lead at 73-70 and held off the Illini in the closing minutes. Marble scored six points, including five at the line, and had a key steal down the stretch.
“We’re getting too old to blow 20-point leads,” Marble said.
Olaseni finished with career highs of 15 points and 12 rebounds and forward Aaron White scored 14 points.
“I’m just thankful for the win,” Olaseni said. “In terms of the plays I made, I was just trying to stay active running the floor and getting offensive rebounds.”
Guard Joseph Bertrand had 20 points to lead Illinois and Rice added 13 points and nine rebounds.
Iowa shot 80 percent from the free throw line, making 24 of 30, and outrebounded Illinois 41-28.
“They come at you in waves,” Illinois coach John Groce said.
The loss was the seventh in a row for the Illini.
The Hawkeyes bolted to a 21-point lead in the first half. Two free throws by center Adam Woodbury with 7:34 left in the opening 20 minutes made it 34-13. Iowa was still up 36-22 with 5:06 remaining in the half after two free throws by Olaseni before the Illini fought back.
Illinois outscored Iowa 14-4 in the final 3:30 to close to 40-36 at intermission. Guards Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn each made a 3-pointer during the run.
Olaseni led Iowa in the first half with 11 points and seven rebounds. He made 9 of 10 free throws. Marble, Iowa’s leading scorer, was held without a point in the opening 20 minutes on 0-of-4 shooting.
Bertrand scored 12 points to lead Illinois at halftime.
Both teams had 11 field goals in the first half. The difference was at the line. Iowa was 15 of 17 (88.2 percent) and Illinois made 10 of 15 (66.7 percent). The Hawkeyes had a sizable 25-12 rebound advantage.
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