Illinois Basketball: Takeaways from road loss at Iowa in battle of ranked teams

Illinois Basketball lost a tough one at Carver-Hawkeye Arena to the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Illinois Basketball played an exciting game against Fran McCaffery’s Iowa Hawkeye’s team. The seven-point margin of victory, (65-72), doesn’t do justice as to how close this game was down the stretch.  Andres Feliz connected on a three-pointer from the left-wing at the 4:03 mark of the second half to put Illinois up by a digit, 62-61. The game was still a two-possession affair until the thirty-eight-second mark with the score locked at 62-64.

That’s when Luka Garza received a pass from Connor McCaffery beyond the three-point arc off the right elbow and he drained his fourth and final three-point shot of the night. That dagger made it a two-possession game with thirty-eight ticks left. A victory was out of the Illini’s reach. Ayo Dosunmu’s three-pointer at the 0:04 mark only served to tighten the final score to single digits.

The anticipated match-up of the night was Kofi Cockburn and Luka Garza. In my game preview, I asked the following question, “Can Luka Garza use his experience to get into the head of Kofi Cockburn and saddle the freshman with foul trouble?”  Kofi only committed one foul in the first-half committing it at the 4:57 mark. In that half, he played 16 minutes, scored two points, had one assist, grabbed four rebounds, nabbed one steal, and committed two turnovers and one foul. Iowa keyed on Cockburn and made it difficult for him when he had the rock in his hands. Head Coach Underwood took Cockburn out of the game after each of his turnovers, limiting his playing time.

In the second half, Cockburn only played 11 minutes. He committed two quick fouls in the opening minutes of the second half. He went to the bench at the 17:27 mark and didn’t return until there was 9:05 left to play. Once he got back in the game he had scant more production than the first half. Overall, Cockburn scored six points, six rebounds, committed three turnovers and grabbed a steal. On the Garza three-pointer that put the game out of reach, Kofi didn’t close on Luka until it was too late. The shot was weakly contested.

What did I take away from this game? Senior leadership matters. As dismal as Cockburn’s stat sheet was, Garza’s production shined. Garza led all scorers with 25 points, he grabbed 10 rebounds, one steal, one block, and added one assist. Garza’s performance added more bullet statements to his post-season awards resume. For Illinois, Andres Feliz had a solid outing.  The senior played twenty-eight minutes and shot 54 percent from two and 50 percent from three. Andrez led the Illini scoring attack with17 points. He added four rebounds, two steals, and an assist to complete his stat sheet.

Illinois Basketball after this loss is still tied for first place in the Big Ten standings with an 8-3 record. Carver-Hawkeye Arena is a tough place to play and the experience will allow Brad Underwood to fine-tune his defense for future contests. For instance, one inbound play that Iowa repeatedly ran netted the Hawkeyes at least eight points. Find a way to disrupt that play and the game possibly ends differently. Overall, if Coach Underwood can get his center to play without getting into foul trouble, he may just bring a regular-season Big Ten Title banner back to Champaign.