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College Basketball

Eastern Illinois Bagged Big Bucks And Big Buckets

Eastern Illinois skies in for an easy dunk
Image: BTN

The college sports concept of the “buy game” is easy enough to understand, but hard to justify in any way that doesn't make college sports look stupid. It is pretty simple in its particulars: A smaller college signs up to play a road game against a powerhouse team looking to pad its record. That smaller school generally loses by double digits, but they also get a fat check from the big school to help fund their sports department. “It’s just part of the economics of Division I basketball,” Purdue men’s basketball DOBO Elliot Bloom told Extra Points last year. “So high-majors are going to have packed arenas and that are going to generate money and on the other end of the spectrum, you've got teams that are going to go kind of help fund their program and their athletic department by playing those games.” There’s really only one nice reason for these games: I have been told by buy-game losers that it was fun to get the experience of playing in a big school’s gym, even after losing by 30.

Sometimes it doesn’t go as planned, though. Last night was one of the biggest buy games of the season in men’s college basketball. Iowa came into its home game 8-3, with the losses coming to TCU, Duke, and Wisconsin (the last one in OT). All three of those teams are currently ranked in the AP's Top 20; there's nothing embarrassing about any of those losses. The Hawkeyes, for their part, were ranked 21st in Kenpom going into the game. Their opponent, the Eastern Illinois Panthers, were ranked 356th out of 363 Division I teams in the same ranking system. They were 3-9, and their only D-I win came over IUPUI; their other wins were over Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (an NAIA school) and Blackburn College (a Division III school that Wikipedia informs me has two mascots, Barney the Beaver and Buzz the Athletic Beaver). Iowa was a 31.5-point favorite, and that number didn't seem excessive.

This isn’t Hawkeyewitness News, so you know what happened: Eastern Illinois beat Iowa, 92-83. This is a massive upset, the biggest by spread this millennium. Wofford’s upset over defending champ North Carolina in December 2017? The Terriers were only a 25.5-point underdog in that one. What makes it even more amazing is Iowa opened the game on an 18-4 run. Everything was playing out very much as expected, and while that whopping spread seemed faintly in peril by halftime, the Hawkeyes still led by eight, 45-37. From there, the Panthers scored 55 points in the second half to win this one going away. It was just the fourth time Eastern Illinois has beaten a power-conference team.

Eastern Illinois hit 20 of its final 26 shots, per Chad Leistikow’s recap in the Des Moines Register. Iowa was missing two of its bigger guns, Kris Murray and Connor McCaffery, but this was still an incredibly bad loss. It was so bad that Iowa players actually admitted postgame that they did not take Eastern Illinois seriously enough.

"We didn’t respect them. Every opponent that comes in here, no matter what division … you respect them,” Filip Rebraca said. “Every time you respect a player that means giving your all to play against them. And I just don’t think we did that.” Rebraca, the son of former NBA guy Zeljko Rebraca, did lead all scorers with 24 points. Maybe he’s being a little hard on himself. Then again, the Hawkeyes did just lose to a team that lost to Illinois by 30 and Ohio State by 22. Eastern Illinois hadn’t scored more than 70 points in a game against a Division I school before dropping 92 last night. Iowa simply couldn’t keep up with the 356th-ranked team in Division I, at home. “We got pretty decent shots, I thought,” Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery said. “Didn’t make any of them.”

Fans weren’t happy.

The attendance shows that 10,553 fans saw Iowa lose its buy game—well, 10,552 after that guy got kicked out. At least he didn’t have to see the end.

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