For the past two seasons, the Iowa Hawkeyes basketball team has had numerous close losses. In many of those losses, they were winning for much of the game, and couldn’t hold on. They had similar games this past week against Michigan State and Illinois. On Tuesday, the Hawkeyes had yet another chance to get a signature victory, and they couldn’t quite pull it off, losing 71-69 in overtime despite leading for much of the second half. Then came Saturday’s game against a struggling Illinois team. Iowa needed a win to stay with Michigan and Michigan State (both 8-1) in the conference race. Iowa got off to a great start, thanks to an active defense and great bench play went up by as much as 21 points in the first half, and it appeared that they were going to roll through the hapless Illini. Illinois had other ideas, they got red hot and went on a 22-5 run to cut the Iowa lead to four at halftime. Illinois continued their hot shooting in the second half and a Tracy Abrams three-pointer gave the Illini their first lead at 62-61 with just over ten minutes left. Joseph Bertrand’s runner made it 66-61 and the Illini had all the momentum. The Hawkeyes had let another lead slip away and it appeared that they were going to lose to an Illinois team that had lost six games in a row. But Senior guard Devyn Marble wouldn’t let that happen. Marble had eight of the team’s final thirteen points, including a huge three-point play to put Iowa up 76-72 with 1:39 left. Iowa outscored Illinois 15-4 in the final five minutes, and would go on to win 81-74, improving
to 17-5 overall and stay alone in third place at 6-3 in Big Ten play. Head coach Fran McCaffery questioned the team’s toughness after the loss to Michigan State, and his players responded by overcoming a blown lead and getting a road win in a tough environment, “We really did show some toughness — blow the big lead we had, get down by five and then be able to keep our composure,” Sophomore guard Mike Gesell said. “This arena, it got really loud in there.” Yes, Illinois is currently last in the Big Ten, but the fact that the Hawkeyes were able to come back after blowing a big lead shows that this team is a changed team and they should have more confidence when they are faced with this same situation later in the season.