Illinois men’s basketball beats Iowa, earns share of Big Ten regular-season title for first time since 2005

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Cameron Krasucki

Alfonso Plummer celebrates after Illinois’ 74-72 win over Iowa on Sunday. The victory gave the Illini a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship for the first time since 2005.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

In a back-and-forth contest, Illinois pulled out a 74-72 win over Iowa, earning a share of the Big Ten regular-season title for the first time since 2005.

Prior to Sunday night’s contest, five Illini were honored during the Senior Night ceremony: Kofi Cockburn, Trent Frazier, Jacob Grandison, Alfonso Plummer and Da’Monte Williams.

The Illini got hot early, with senior guard Da’Monte Williams hitting a triple to open the scoring and keep his swagger going from his 14-point outing on Thursday against Penn State.

Junior Kofi Cockburn made things happen in the paint, scoring an early layup before drawing a foul to head to the free-throw line shortly after. 

Iowa started to pick up steam, using a 9-1 run to turn a five-point deficit into a three-point lead. Sophomore forward Keegan Murray, who leads in the Big Ten in scoring, recorded six of his team’s first 13 points. The Illini cooled off during that stretch, shooting just 25% from the field through the first eight minutes of the half.

Though neither team was able to take more than a five-point lead over the first 11 minutes, the visiting Hawkeyes used a 13-0 run over a three-minute stretch to take a 13-point lead, with five different players scoring during that run.

Cockburn eventually snapped with a layup with 5:37 to play in the first half, bringing him to double-digits for his 40th consecutive game. 

After the teams traded baskets over the next three minutes, the Illini closed the half on a 9-0 run but headed into halftime down six after trailing by as many as 15. Murray and sophomore guard Tony Perkins led the way for the Hawkeyes with 10 points each, while Cockburn had a game-high 13 points at the break.

The Illini picked up right where they left off to open the second half. After Iowa extended their lead to seven, Illinois used an 8-0 run, which included a Williams triple, a Cockburn layup and three Plummer free throws to take a 47-46 lead with just under 16 minutes left on the clock.

The twin duo of Keegan and Kris Murray, who had both not scored for nearly nine minutes, did not stay quiet for long, scoring eight straight points as Iowa retook a seven-point lead, 54-47, with 14 minutes to play.

Iowa continued to counter any punches Illinois threw, and despite triples from Plummer and freshman guard RJ Melendez, the Hawkeye held onto a four-point lead with just under nine minutes to play.

Sophomore guard Andre Curbelo, who was struggling, drove to the hoop with under eight minutes to play, converting a tough layup and drawing the foul. After the crafty guard hit the ensuing free throw, a stop on the other end of the court led to a sophomore forward Coleman Hawkins triple. The 3-pointer capped off an 8-0 Illini run, giving the hosts a 65-63 lead with seven minutes left.

After the Murray twins combined to score four straight points to put Iowa back in front, Illinois used an 8-0 run, fueled by a Cockburn jumper, four Curbelo free throws and a Hawkins jumper, to take a 73-67 lead with three minutes to play. 

Kris Murray had the opportunity to cut his side’s lead in half after getting fouled while shooting a 3-pointer, but he missed all three free throws.

The Hawkeyes cut their deficit to three with under a minute to play, and after an empty Illini possession, Keegan Murray was fouled shooting a 3-pointer, though he made one of his three attempts to cut the Illinois lead to 73-72 with 15 seconds to play.

After Williams went one for two from the charity stripe, Kris Murray missed a three with three seconds to play. Frazier dribbled the ball out, sending State Farm Center into a frenzy as fans stormed the court.

 

@JacksonJanes3

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