Free throws finally fall, preserve win

Illinois coach Bruce Weber argues a call during the first half against Iowa on Saturday in Iowa City. The Illini defeated the Hawkeyes 58-47. The Associated Press

Illinois coach Bruce Weber argues a call during the first half against Iowa on Saturday in Iowa City. The Illini defeated the Hawkeyes 58-47. The Associated Press

By The Associated Press

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Illinois coach Bruce Weber joked all week about Saturday’s game against Iowa, saying the first team to score 40 points would win. It turned out he was right.

In what’s amounted to a long season for a program unaccustomed to losing, the bounces finally went Illinois’ way as the Illini beat Iowa 58-47.

Shaun Pruitt scored 18 points to lead Illinois and helped the Illini reach the 40-point mark first. He knocked down four quick points to help establish himself in the post and made free throws in a season full of misses. He scored 12 in the first half, including 4-4 from the foul line.

Illinois used a 16-5 run midway through the first half to take control of the game and never looked back.

“It’s a good win for us. Any win’s good, especially the struggles we’ve gone through,” Weber said. “I joked all week that the first team to 40 wins, and that’s what kind of happened.”

Iowa senior Seth Gorney couldn’t contain Pruitt, who attacked him with an assortment of pump-fakes and spins.

Illinois (12-17, 4-12 Big Ten) led by as many as 11 during the second half, but hit baskets to hold off Iowa whenever the Hawkeyes, who played their last home game of the season, seemed to gain momentum.

Illinois’ defense stifled Iowa’s senior class of Justin Johnson, Seth Gorney, and Kurt Looby, who combined 5-of-18 from the floor. Johnson was just 1-of-8 from the floor. As a team, Iowa was sluggish, shooting just 35.9 percent from the floor. “I thought the first half today Illinois established that they were the aggressor and they were comfortable and played well,” Iowa coach Todd Lickliter said. “In the second half there were times when we tried to right the ship but it would be different if we would have made shots that were makeable.”

Iowa (12-18, 5-12) pulled to within 45-40 on a Freeman free throw with 6:11 remaining, but Trent Meacham answered with a three-pointer from the wing.

“Shaun was tough down low, and he gave us a lot down there,” Meacham said. “We were moving and he found me, and that was a big shot.”

Freeman again brought Iowa to within five on a three-point play with 2:21 remaining, but Iowa would get no closer as Pruitt got credit for basket on a goal tending call, and Meacham added a pair of free throws to stretch the lead to nine. The Illini made their last six free throws to put the game away.

Tony Freeman led Iowa with 21 points.