No. 25 Illinois on target in Big Ten opener, handles Iowa

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Illinois found the perfect remedy for its first losing skid of the season.

A trip to Iowa City and some hot shooting.

Demetri McCamey led five players in double figures with 20 points and Illinois (No. 25 ESPN/USA Today, No. 23 AP) beat host Iowa 87-77 on Wednesday night in its Big Ten opener.

D.J. Richardson added 17 for the Illini (11-3, 1-0 Big Ten), who hit 11 of their first 13 tries from 3-point range and shot 67 percent from the floor to hold off the rebuilding Hawkeyes.

The Illini hit their first seven 3s, then pushed a 12-point lead to 58-39 less than two minutes into the second half. Iowa rallied to get within 65-59, but McCamey sandwiched a key jumper around a pair of 3s to put the Illini ahead 70-59 with 7:01 left.

It was the first win in 17 days for Illinois, which coach Bruce Weber said felt like an "eternity." The Illini next host Wisconsin and Northwestern with a chance to get an early jump on the league race.

"It's been a long stretch. There's no doubt," Weber said. "You had exams, you had the break, you had a game. It was just a tough stretch for us, but we won our first Big Ten game. Now we've got to go back and see if we can get a couple at home."

Matt Gatens had a game-high 21 points to lead Iowa (7-6, 0-1), which dropped its league opener for the sixth time in seven years.

Illinois came in shooting just 9-of-35 from 3-point range in their last two games, both losses.

Against the Hawkeyes, the Illini were unstoppable from beyond the arc -- finishing an astounding 13-of-18.

"When you're shooting the ball like that, it makes you look good," Weber said. "We hadn't been making the plays the past couple of weeks and this time we made them and found a way to win."

Richardson opened the second half with yet another 3, and McCamey and Jereme Richmond toyed with Iowa's defense for a fastbreak layup that put the Illini up by 19 with 18:10 left.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, making his Big Ten debut, called a quick timeout and the Hawkeyes responded with a 10-0 run to get back within 58-49. Richmond's intentional foul with 10:46 left put Iowa in position to get as close as three, but the Hawkeyes missed two free throws and threw the ball away.

McCamey, who also had 10 assists, made them pay with a 3 from the wing put Illinois ahead 65-54.

Iowa pulled within 65-59 with 8:21 to go, but McCamey answered with an off-balance 15-footer to beat the shot clock and a long 3 to give the Illini some breathing room at 70-59.

Mike Davis had 15 points to crack 1,000 for his career for Illinois, which has won five straight over the Hawkeyes for the first time since 1965.

"They made their run, but we made sure we kept our foot on the pedal," McCamey said. "Even if they did make their run, we made plays and made free throw down the stretch."

Illinois had been rolling until it was stunned by Illinois-Chicago 57-54 in the United Center on Dec. 18, ending a seven-game winning streak. The Illini looked poised to bounce back in its Braggin' Rights showdown with then-No. 9 Missouri in St. Louis, but Mike Tisdale's late intentional foul allowed the Tigers to score eight points in just nine seconds en route to a 75-64 win.

The Illini didn't exactly come out playing great defense, allowing Iowa to rack up 15 points in the first five minutes. It didn't matter, though, because Illinois quickly rediscovered the 3-point shooting touch that had briefly abandoned them.

The Illini got three 3s from Richardson, two each from McCamey and Bill Cole and went on a 16-0 run to jump ahead 27-15. Illinois finished the first half 10-of-12 from 3-point range and led 49-37 -- even though the Hawkeyes shot 50 percent from the floor.

"Once you see the first couple go, it's like our team has a tendency to catch fire," Cole said. "It seemed like we couldn't miss in the first half."

Iowa isn't expected to do much in the Big Ten this season, and losses to the likes of South Dakota State and Long Beach State didn't help change many minds. Still, the young Hawkeyes had been trending upward in the last month, winning four of its last five before Wednesday night's loss.

The return of a healthy Gatens, who tore a tendon in his non-shooting hand and missed Iowa's first two games, has helped stabilize a team that's had to play as many as three freshmen in critical junctures.

Bryce Cartwright added 13 points and Eric May added 12 for Iowa, which will need more than Gatens to compete in the Big Ten.

"I thought we battled," McCaffery said. "We kept coming."