It took seven games, but the Illinois men’s basketball team finally netted their 17th win of the season after losing six in a row and nine out of the last ten. The Illini hosted Iowa on Sunday and beat the Hawkeyes 65-54 in front of an Assembly Hall crowd that has been growing uneasy the past few weeks.
Illinois fell behind early when Iowa went on a 5-0 run to start the game, but the Illini answered quickly with a 13-0 run and never looked back. Meyers Leonard, coming off the bench, lead the Illini with 22 points and 14 rebounds. The sophomore center’s double-double was his eighth of the season. Leonard added a perfect 8 of 8 from the charity stripe, as the team shot 88% from the free throw line.
Junior guard Brandon Paul, also coming off the bench for the game, added 17 points of his own while going 3 for 5 from behind the arc. With a three-pointer in the mid first half, Paul became the 46th Illini player to score 1000 points in a career, just a game after his teammate DJ Richardson became the 45th member of the club. The junior guard Richardson added 12 points on just 4 of 12 shooting on the night.
Iowa was lead in scoring by senior star guard Matt Gatens with 22 points. Gatens continued his hot shooting, going 5-6 from three. Roy Marble added 10 points in the loss. Iowa falls to 15-14 on the year and 7-9 in the Big Ten.
Illinois bench outscored Iowa’s bench 44 to 1 on the night, with Iowa’s one bench point coming from a Melsahn Basabe free throw. The Illinois number is skewed though from Illinois coach Bruce Weber’s decision to start freshman center Nnanna Egwu and junior forward Tyler Griffey over usual starters Leonard and Paul, who accounted for 39 of those 44 bench points.
The win boosts Illinois record to 17-12 and 6-10 in the Big Ten. What once started as a very promising season, has now become an uncertain one for the Illini and Weber. With the coach on a boiling hot seat, Illinois must win out to give them any kind of shot at the tournament, outside of winning the Big Ten tournament.
Illinois hosts #13 Michigan on Thursday, March 1 at 6 pm CT on ESPN in the final home game of the season. The Illlini will be looking for just their third win in the last eleven games.