NEW YORK (AP) — The Big Ten opened a five-day run at Madison Square with Jordan Bohannon leading Iowa past Illinois, 96-87, on Wednesday night in the first game of the conference tournament.
Bohannon scored 25 points and had six assists, including a bounce pass to Luka Garza for a jam with 34 seconds left to keep the Illini at bay.
The 12th-seeded Hawkeyes (14-18) got solid work inside from Tyler Cook (19 points, five rebounds) and Garza (20 and eight) to go with the accurate shooting of Bohannon. The sophomore was 5 for 7 from 3-point range. Iowa will face fifth-seeded Michigan on Thursday.
Kipper Nichols scored a career-best 31 points for 13th seed Illinois (14-18) to close out coach Brad Underwood’s first season with two wins in its final nine games.
The Big Ten planted its flag in New York five years ago when Rutgers was added along with Maryland. The conference opened up an office in Manhattan and started sending a football team to the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Bringing the conference hoops tournament to the Big Apple was another move by Commissioner Jim Delany to claim the biggest media market in the country as Big Ten territory.
The first Big Ten tournament game ever played at the “Mecca of Basketball” featured teams that were a combined 1,665 miles away from their campuses — give or take a few miles.
When the Hawkeyes and Illini tipped off at 5:30 p.m. local time there were about 3,000 fans in the lower bowl of the Garden, though it was about double by the end.
To get a reservation at the Garden — which will host the Big East next week — the Big Ten needed to tweak its regular-season schedule and take the early bird special, starting its tournament a week before most of the other power leagues will. The Big Ten will crown a champion Sunday, a week before the NCAA Tournament selections.
Illinois: The Illini have not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2013, but this will be the first season as a head coach that Underwood has not led his team to the NCAAs. He did it each of his three seasons as head coach at Stephen F. Austin and took Oklahoma State there last year, his one and only season with the Cowboys.
Iowa: Bohannon dropped in a 3 from the left wing with 5:55 left to give Iowa an 80-70 lead and the Hawkeyes were never in serious trouble from there in a game that got a little bloody. Twice play had to be stopped because a player was bleeding, the second time late in the game when Illinois’ Te’Jon Lucas cut his hand and left Garza with streaks of red on his white jersey.
Illinois: On to next season for the Illini, who have an early season trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational to look forward to.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes will try to avoid going 0-3 against Michigan this season.
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