CHAMPAIGN – Thirty-nine years ago Thursday in this same building Eddie Johnson rose up and drilled a baseline jumper that lifted Illinois past Magic Johnson and No. 1-ranked Michigan State 57-55.
As iconic moments go, that one has endured.
What happened at the State Farm Center Thursday night will be talked about for a long while, too, but for all the wrong reasons.
It will be talked about with frowns, scowls and one-too-many shots of whiskey. It will be talked about like all bad memories that just won’t go away.
Illinois became the last team in the Big Ten without a conference victory, blowing a 20-point first-half lead as Iowa mauled the Illini on the glass and scratched out a 104-97 overtime victory.
Illinois needed a miracle to get the game to overtime and got one when Trent Frazier hit a body-twisting, off-balance 3 from in front of the Illini bench as time expired. As the ball went in, Illini coach Brad Underwood threw an imaginary right cross with his fist, putting an exclamation point on the improbable basket.
But that was the last punch landed for Illinois (10-8, 0-5). Iowa, which outrebounded the Illini 45-26, ran away with it in overtime while Illinois fouled, turned the ball over and waved at rebounds Iowa controlled.
Illinois tried to overcome a number of obstacles, including a suspension and the flu, and appeared to be well on its way as it built a 49-29 lead with just under four minutes to play in the first half.
An Illini team that had shot 24.7 percent from 3-point range in four Big Ten games was suddenly hot, making 9 of 15 3s in the first half.
But even before the first half ended, Illinois’ defense was springing leaks. Iowa closed the gap to 13 points at halftime, and a torrid burst to open the second half completely changed the complexion of the game.
It took the Hawkeyes 2:11 minutes to rip off 10 unanswered points to begin the second half, slicing the once-comfortable Illini lead to 54-51.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey said Iowa started to find its way even before the 10-0 burst.
“It didn’t start in the second half,” he said. “We got it down to 13 at halftime and that’s a manageable number. I think that’s important.
“Then we opened the second half strong and now you’re in a two-possession game with 18 minutes to go.”
Iowa pulled even 66-66 but the Illini edged back ahead until Iowa tied it again, 79-79, with 5:41 to play.
By then the Illini were in foul trouble. Mark Alstork and Leron Black fouled out and Da’Monte Williams would a bit later. Te’Jon Lucas, the sophomore point guard, didn’t even suit up, sitting out with a suspension for what Underwood called an unspecified violation of team rules.
Finally Iowa gained the upper hand, going to Tyler Cook inside, Jordan Bohannon outside and Luka Garza on the glass and at the free throw line. Garza was a beast late.
Bohannon led the Hawkeyes with 29 points while Cook had 21 points and 13 rebounds and Garza finished with 19 and 11.
Iowa was masterful at the line, making 33 of 40 and with Bohannon and Garza combining to make 19 of 19.
Illinois finally got an extra chance thanks to Frazier’s improbable 3 at the buzzer to force an extra period. But Iowa dominated the extra frame to send a State Farm Center crowd of 11,326 home grumbling.
Frazier led the Illini with 27 points. He made 7 of 11 3-pointers. Black and Aaron Jordan added 18 points each.
Underwood has clearly become frustrated with his team’s repeated tendency to play one good half and one poor half.
“It’s the same song, second verse. Or third, or fourth, or fifth,” Underwood said. “All we talked about at halftime was opening the first four-minute war trying to compete and guard and do what we’d just done.
“We were really good in the first half and that was fun to watch. But in the second half and overtime, we gave up 63 points. Sixty-three,” he said for emphasis.
“Until we can guard and quit committing silly fouls 94 feet from the basket by reaching…they’ve got to learn and they won’t out-stubborn me. I’ll win the battle.”
It was Iowa’s second-largest road comeback in program history. The largest came in 1987 when the Hawkeyes came from 22 down to beat the Illini.
RECRUITING VISIT -- Schnider Herard, a 6-foot-10, 260-pound transfer from Mississippi State, was on campus Thursday making his official visit.
Herard, who is Haitian, is also looking at Baylor and Arizona State. He could be eligible for the second semester of next season. He was a top 50 recruit as part of the Class of 2016.
He averaged 5.1 points and 5 rebounds while getting 19 starts as a freshman last season. He played sparingly in early games this season, prompting his decision to transfer.