There were plenty of Iowa teams that would have folded up a tent and accepted a loss after losing a 21-point lead on the road Saturday night.
Just not the current Hawkeye squad. Not this year.
The 15th ranked Hawkeyes lost a big lead and then was forced to rally from a deficit in the final 4 minutes, but instead of giving up, Iowa closed the game on a 15-4 run and recorded an 81-74 victory over Illinois in front of 16,618 fans inside the State Farm Center.
It was Iowa’s first win at Illinois since 1999. And it came in a gutsy performance from several Hawkeye ballers.
Roy Devyn Marble scored all 17 of his team-high points in the final 20 minutes, while Gabe Olaseni recorded the fourth double-double of his career with 15 points and 12 boards. The other Hawkeye in double-figures was Aaron White, who finished with 14 points and six boards in the win.
"We had some stretches where we came apart a little bit, but that happens on the road," said Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery. "I couldn't be prouder of our toughness."
The Hawkeyes, who are now 5-0 after losses, had a 32-15 advantage in bench points, a 20-6 surplus in fastbreak points and were plus-10 (10-0) in fastbreak points.
Mike Gesell also had eight points and three assists, while Jarrod Uthoff and Zach McCabe each had seven off the pine.
Iowa out-rebounded Illinois 41-28 and grabbed 15 offensive rebounds.
"Fifteen offensive rebounds is a big number, especially with the way they were scoring," said McCaffery.
Joseph Bertrand had big first half and finished with 20 points, while former Drake Bulldog Rayvonte Rice had 13 points and nine boards. Tracy Abrams chipped in 11 points.
There were nine ties and three lead changes in the game. Illinois’ biggest lead was six but Iowa quickly recovered from that margin in the final minutes to clinch the win.
The Fighting Illini (13-9, 2-7) trailed by 21 following two freebies from Adam Woodbury with 7:34 to play in the half. They used a 23-6 run in the final 7 minutes to recover on the scoreboard. The lead for Iowa (17-5, 6-3) at halftime was four.
"We got ahead of ourselves," said Olaseni. "We started looking at the score, stopped getting away from what we did and didn't get consecutive defensive stops. At halftime, coach broke it down and said we had to refocus and do what we do."
Marble had 17 second-half points and eight came during Iowa’s decisive run late in the game that locked up another win.
"Coach McCaffery asked us what it was going to be," said Olaseni. "We could have gone either way. We could have easily lost this game, but we had great leadership from Devyn and Aaron. There wasn't a panic; it was more of a refocus. It was more saying we are going to win this game instead of we can't lose this game."
The Hawkeyes return to action Tuesday, hosting No. 23 Ohio State on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena beginning at 6 p.m.