CHICAGO In the days preceding the Big Ten Tournament, some analysts predicted that slumping Iowa would have to win three games to secure an NCAA Tournament berth. The Hawkeyes did them one better, winning four games in four days to take the 2001 Big Ten Tournament title and secure an NCAA automatic bid.
“The last time we were in this state we got chanted “N-I-T,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “Not today.”
This tournament marks the first time in three years that the final did not feature a Michigan State-Illinois matchup and the first time ever that the title left the state of Michigan.
The Hawkeyes rebounded from a slow start and an eight-point first-half deficit to defeat Indiana 63-61. Iowa junior Reggie Evans, the tournament”s MVP, blocked Kirk Haston”s three-point attempt with time expiring.
“I kind of saw it coming, and I just timed it so perfectly and got a clean block,” Evans said.
Early in the game, Indiana appeared fresher. The Hoosiers” top two scorers, Haston and freshman Jared Jeffries, combined for 26 points in the period.
But in the second half, Iowa was led back by its youngest gunner and its oldest leader. Freshman Brody Boyd who saw sparse playing time before the injury bug hit the Hawkeyes nailed three key 3-pointers in the second half and finished with 22 points.
“I was glad to see (Dane) Fife guarding me,” the confident frosh said. Tom “Coverdale just wasn”t doing his job, so Fife came in.”
Dean Oliver, Iowa”s captain, scored 12 points and connected on a number of important baskets to keep pace.
“All the hard work and effort, and blood, sweat and tears that I put into this, I couldn”t ask for anything more,” Oliver said. “Now we”ve got the momentum and now we can do something in the NCAA Tournament.”
With the score knotted at 59 with 2:09 remaining, it seemed almost like two teams of destiny were on the floor at the same time. Iowa had looked lost down the stretch of the regular season, dropping seven of its final eight games.
With leading scorer Luke Recker and key reserve Ryan Hogan both lost to injury, the Hawkeyes appeared NIT-bound.
“We had a vision of a Big Ten title,” Alford said. “It”s a tremendous tribute to these guys.”
Meanwhile, Indiana never made the conference tournament semifinals under former coach Bobby Knight, who criticized the concept of a Big Ten Tournament from its outset.
With questions surrounding his job, interim Indiana coach Mike Davis took the Hoosiers to the brink of a title, including an upset of top-seeded Illinois.
“This should have been our championship,” Davis said. “This was a great opportunity to bring excitement back to the program. I”m extremely disappointed.”
Both teams will be part of seven Big Ten teams represented in the NCAA Tournament. Iowa will compete as a seventh seed in the East region against Creighton. Indiana will compete as a fourth seed in the West against Kent State.