CHAMPAIGN - The Illinois players wore headbands and shirts with Nos. 11 and 40 on them in pregame warmups Saturday. It was their way to honor teammates Dee Brown and James Augustine on Senior Day.
But when Brown and Augustine came out nervous in the first half, the other Illini made sure the leaders walked off the Assembly Hall floor for the final time with a victory.
"They've had special careers here and we wanted to send them out with a bang," said Rich McBride.
McBride scored 15 points as No. 8-ranked Illinois downed No. 20 Iowa 71-59. That put the Illini (23-5) and Iowa (20-8) in a second-place tie in the Big Ten Conference standings at 9-5, a game behind Ohio State.
The victory also was No. 111 for Brown and Augustine and made them the winningest players in Illini history. The old mark of 110 was set by former teammate Nick Smith.
Brown and Augustine left the court to standing ovations with 38 seconds left. They also talked to the sellout crowd after the game, much to Augustine's dismay.
"I felt like it was the last day of my life. I'm kind of glad it's over," said Augustine
The first half was over quick for Augustine. He missed his first free throw. On the next, he missed the rim. Soon thereafter, Augustine was on the bench with two fouls. Brown misfired on all six of his shots and two free throws in the first half.
"I really don't get nervous, but there were so many thoughts in my head," said Brown. "Not only was it a big game, but it was Senior Night. I was a little nervous, but it had nothing to do with my performance."
The Illini still managed a 34-29 lead at the intermission. Shaun Pruitt took the ball hard to the basket, scoring eight points and grabbing five rebounds. Illinois' bench, which went scoreless in a loss at Michigan Tuesday, came alive. Warren Carter and Marcus Arnold had five points each, while Jamar Smith made his first 3-pointer in two weeks.
Augustine came out strong in the second half to finish with 12 points and seven rebounds. Brown made two 3-pointers in the second half for six points and in the process passed Brian Cook for third place on Illinois' all-time scoring list with 1,750 points. He chipped in nine assists with just one turnover.
Illinois' Brian Randle added 13 points and sank a career-high seven free throws in eight attempts. Arnold, who had eight points and six rebounds in the previous six games combined, didn't let down in the second half and finished with nine points and six rebounds.
"Marcus Arnold maybe had his best game here. He played his butt off," said Illinois coach Bruce Weber of the Illinois State transfer. "I feel bad for him. He's just struggled … he did have the flu today.
"At the (morning) shootaround he was running back and forth to the rest room. One of the coaches joked maybe he'll just forget about playing and relax. It ended up being true."
The best senior on the court was Iowa's Greg Brunner. The tenacious Brunner single-handedly kept the Hawkeyes in the game by scoring 18 of his game-high 27 points in the second half. Even when Brunner missed, he usually was there to grab the rebound and score anyway.
Iowa's two other standouts didn't fare quite so well. Junior Adam Haluska, the Hawkeyes' leading scorer with a 14.6 average, tied his season low with three points on 1-of-6 shooting as Randle gave him fits defensively. Senior Jeff Horner scored a quiet 11 points.
"I thought this would be a difficult game," said Iowa coach Steve Alford, whose team beat Illinois 63-48 on Jan. 7 at Iowa City. "This is a tremendous basketball environment and two special individuals playing their last home game.
"I thought Dee was awfully patient and James came back in the second half and gave them a big lift. Randle and McBride were probably the difference. They didn't do the things in game one (combining for seven points) that they did in game two."
Illinois trailed 12-6 early and Augustine was on the bench. But Smith started an 11-3 run with a 3-pointer to get the crowd back into the game. Arnold executed a give-and-go perfectly with Brown to put Illinois ahead 17-15.
It remained close the rest of the half until McBride sank two 3-pointers in the final 1:26 to put Illinois up five at the break.
Augustine picked up his third foul less than two minutes into the second half. Weber let him stay on the court and it paid off. Illinois went on a 13-3 run to expand the lead to 61-45 with 5:46 left and coasted the rest of the way.
Illinois held Iowa to 44.7 percent shooting, including 4 of 16 from 3-point range. Iowa committed 13 turnovers and had just seven assists.
"They're probably the best defensive team in the league. They put a lot of pressure on you," said Alford. "We had some key stretches where we took ill-advised shots and that translated into bad defense (on the other end)."
Illinois shot 45.1 percent and outrebounded the Hawkeyes 32-24.
Now it's off on the road for the Illini. They finish league play at 8 p.m. Tuesday against Minnesota and 11 a.m. Saturday at Michigan State. Weber preferred to savor Saturday's victory a little longer than usual instead of looking ahead because of Brown and Augustine.
"I'm relieved we won. I would have hated with everything on the line, Senior Day and a chance to be the all-time winningest players, if we wouldn't have found a way to win it," said Weber.
"To take them out was even better. That's the snapshot they'll always have in their minds."