By Dallas Jones
IOWA CITY, IOWA – The Iowa Hawkeyes (14-8, 6-5) came into Saturday afternoon looking to complete a three game sweep of the Big Ten this week as they hosted the Illinois Fighting Illini (16-6, 7-4) in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
A win would propel them to a tie for third place in the conference with a month left until the Big Ten Tournament.
In the second half Tony Perkins exploded for 25 points and he set a new career high with 32 points on the game. Here are my takeaways and postgame words from the teams:
Tony Perkins takes over: This Iowa team has prided itself on being a group that have a different player step up every night.
Many times it is Kris Murray of course, but Filip Rebraca, Payton Sandfort and others have shown their ability to take control of a game this season.
Tonight that player was Tony Perkins. He set a career high with 32 points on 8-11 (72.7%) from the field and 15-16 (93.7%) from the free throw line. He tied a school record for consecutive made free throws in a single game with 15.
His 25 second half points would have been a career high alone.
Perkins is a veteran guard who has played in big games and made big plays many times. He will be crucial in the big picture for Iowa as the season winds down.
Rebonds matter: The Hawkeyes found themselves down only one point at the half. While that isn’t the worse spot to be in, the Hawkeyes were out rebounded 19 to 11 in the half alone.
Illinois used that gap to hold a 9-3 advantage on second chance point opportunities. In a close battle such as this, there is no room for error.
Illinois is an athletic team that crashes the boards hard, Iowa new that going in. Starting center Filip Rebraca had yet to grab a board at the half in his 19 minutes of play.
Iowa continued to struggle in the second half as Illinois finished the game with a +11 rebound advantage. Part of the reason this game went down to the wire was because of the 13 offensive rebounds by the Illini.
Iowa may have came out with a win in spite of this, but the road ahead features the best rebounding team in the country in Purdue. They will simply have to be better on that aspect.
Big run out of the half put pressure on Hawkeyes, but they respond: Iowa has been a team that responded well after the halftime break all year. They have multiple comeback wins and close games to show for it.
Saturday was not the case. After trailing by just one at the break, Iowa say themselves down 47-39 after a 11-0 Illinois run in a three minutes span.
Making it count at the line: Iowa is often one of the best free throw shooting teams in the conference and currently sits at 4th best in the Big Ten, shooting 74.7% from the stripe.
That was not the case on January 26th when Iowa lost at Michigan State by two points in a game that they shot 6-13 (46.2%) from the line.
You never want to leave that many points at the line and the loss seemed be what the Hawkeyes need to lock in at the line.
In the three games since, the Hawkeyes have shot 29-34 (85.3%) in a win vs Rutgers, 18-22 (81.2%) in a win vs Northwestern and 26-30 (86,7) today vs Illinois.
Three games over 80% from the line, three wins. Sometimes it is just that simple. As they games get more important, every single point can change the game.
What a clean sweep means: After starting 0-3 in conference play, the Hawkeyes find themselves 7-5 and tied for third place in the Big Ten with a month left.
The Hawkeyes have won seven of their last nine conference games and have only dropped on Big Ten game at home. This run has flipped momentum for the Hawkeyes and opened up lots of possibilities as March approaches.
No breathing room to spare though as third and twelfth in the conference are only separated by two games.
Iowa now has their eyes on a matchup against the top dogs in the conference all year in the Purdue Boilermakers.
They will travel to West Lafayette Thursday night, tipping off at 6:00pm on ESPN2.
Postgame words from Iowa: