Hawkeyes hold off Illini, 96-87

AP PHOTO • Illinois forward Kipper Nichols (2) tries to strip the ball from Iowa forward Tyler Cook, left, during the second half of their first-round game of the Big Ten Conference tournament Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

NEW YORK — The first Big Ten tournament game at Madison Square Garden featured a couple of teams that were a combined 1,665 miles — give or take — away from home, no players from New York City, and a kid from Iowa having a blast on the big stage.

The Big Ten opened a five-day run at the “Mecca of Basketball” with Jordan Bohannon leading Iowa past Illinois 96-87 on Wednesday night. Bohannon scored 25 points and had six assists, including a bounce pass to Luka Garza for a jam with 34 seconds left to keep the Illini at bay.

“This is my first time being here,” said Bohannon, the 6-foot sophomore from Marion. “Something you always want to do when you’re growing up. Something you think about, playing in Madison Square Garden. You think about the people that played here before you and currently playing here.”

The 12th-seeded Hawkeyes (14-18) got solid work inside from Tyler Cook (19 points, five rebounds) and Garza (20 and eight) to go with the accurate shooting of Bohannon. The sophomore was 5 for 7 from 3-point range. Iowa will face fifth-seeded Michigan today.

“They’re a very good, explosive offensive team, and their size bothered us and Bohannon just loves seeing orange and blue,” Illini coach Brad Underwood said.

Bohannon scored 29 in an overtime victory against the Illini in Champaign, Illinois, back in January.

Kipper Nichols scored a career-best 31 points for 13th seed Illinois (14-18), which closed out Underwood’s first season with two wins in its final nine games.

The Big Ten planted its flag in New York five years ago when Rutgers was added along with Maryland. The conference opened up an office in Manhattan and started sending a football team to the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Bringing the conference hoops tournament to the Big Apple was another move by Commissioner Jim Delany to claim the biggest media market in the country as Big Ten territory.

When the Hawkeyes and Illini tipped off at 5:30 p.m. local time there were about 3,000 fans in the lower bowl of the Garden, though it was about double by the end. Rutgers and Minnesota played the nightcap.

To get a reservation at the Garden — which will host the Big East next week — the Big Ten needed to tweak its regular-season schedule and take the early bird special, starting its tournament a week before the other power leagues will. The Big Ten will crown a champion Sunday, a week before the NCAA Tournament selections.


Iowa: Bohannon dropped in a 3 from the left wing with 5:55 left to give Iowa an 80-70 lead and the Hawkeyes were never in serious trouble from there in a game that got a little bloody. Twice play had to be stopped because a player was bleeding, the second time late in the game when Illinois’ Te’Jon Lucas cut his hand and left Garza with streaks of red on his white jersey.


Iowa: The Hawkeyes will try to avoid going 0-3 against Michigan this season.

“They’re not an easy team to guard,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey said. “They share it. They spread you out. They have multiple 3-point shooters. They also have multiple drivers.”

Big Ten Conference

At Madison Square Garden, New York

First Round

Wednesday, Feb. 28

Iowa 96, Illinois 87

Rutgers 65, Minnesota 54

Second Round

Thursday, March 1

Maryland vs. Wisconsin, 11 a.m.

Michigan vs. Iowa, 1:25 p.m. (BTN)

Penn State vs. Northwestern, 5:30 p.m.

Indiana vs. Rutgers, 7:55 p.m.


At New York City

ILLINOIS (14-18) — Nichols 10-18 6-6 31, Black 2-7 0-1 4, Lucas 5-9 1-3 12, Alstork 0-1 0-0 0, Frazier 5-12 0-0 13, Vesel 0-0 0-0 0, Eboigbodin 1-2 0-0 2, Finke 5-7 2-2 13, Smith 2-7 0-0 6, Jordan 2-3 0-0 6, Williams 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS 32-66 9-12 87.

IOWA (14-18) — Cook 6-8 7-10 19, Nunge 1-2 3-4 5, Garza 8-10 3-3 20, Moss 1-7 4-4 6, Bohannon 6-10 8-8 25, Pemsl 1-1 3-3 5, Kriener 0-1 1-2 1, Wagner 1-2 1-3 3, Baer 1-3 4-4 7, Ellingson 0-0 0-0 0, Dailey 2-4 0-0 5. TOTALS 27-48 34-41 96.

Halftime–Iowa 35-31. 3-Point Goals–Illinois 14-30 (Nichols 5-9, Frazier 3-7, Jordan 2-3, Smith 2-6, Lucas 1-2, Finke 1-2, Black 0-1), Iowa 8-14 (Bohannon 5-7, Dailey 1-1, Garza 1-2, Baer 1-2, Moss 0-2). Fouled Out–Frazier. Rebounds–Illinois 17 (Finke 4), Iowa 29 (Garza 8). Assists–Illinois 23 (Lucas 8), Iowa 17 (Bohannon 6). Total Fouls–Illinois 30, Iowa 19. Technical Foul–Illinois coach Brad Underwood.