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January 24, 2014
Slumping Illini fall to Ohio State
AP Photo Feature
The Illini lost another tough game on Thursday night, a 62-55 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes in a game that they had an opportunity to pull out. Despite 19 points from Joseph Bertrand and 10 points and 9 rebounds from slumping Nnanna Egwu, Illinois couldn't get over the hump against Ohio State (16-4, 3-4). LaQuinton Ross had 18 and Lenzelle Smith 16 to lead the Buckeyes.
In falling to 13-7 and 2-5 in the conference, Illinois has a tough upcoming schedule which could mean an even longer losing streak if they can't get leading scorer Rayvonte Rice untracked. Rice was scoreless, shooting 0-8 from the floor and not getting to the line while committing 3 turnovers. You won't win many when your best player has a game like that.
Here's a look back.
More assertive Bertrand
There were two positives out of Thursday's game, one being the assertiveness of Joseph Bertrand. You have to like that Illinois used him in the post and it created a mismatch that the Illini were able to exploit. He scored over and around Scott, Craft and Smith, using a size advantage to get good looks from in tight. It was one of the best offensive games for Bertrand this season, and it creates something other teams wil have to game plan for now.
Egwu shows up
What may have helped clear out the space for Bertrand to work, was the re-emergence of big man Nnanna Egwu, who finally made a couple of shots and scored 10 points while grabbing 9 rebounds. It was his best game in two months, and possibly his best of the season. What may be even more important than the scoring itself, is the way he scored. He took shots that he could make, didn't rush 3 pointers and even scored in the post. Throw in 6 defensive rebounds and it was a solid effort from Egwu, who hadn't scored in the previous two games.
Once again, second half minutes were hard to come by for the Freshmen. John Groce is riding his veterans all the way it seems. All 5 starters played 17 or 18 2nd half minutes, while Nunn, Hill and Tate, who all showed flashes in the first half, played 5, 3 and 2 minutes in the second half, as Illinois looked fatigued and ran out of gas.
For Illinois to be good, they need the veterans to play well. However, if they aren't having a good night, why not let them sit for some longer stretches in the second half? Rice really struggled to score against Craft, and Abrams struggled in the first half immensely. It may keep the players more engaged on the bench, and getting them more into the flow can help if they have to play late in the game. Players play players is nice, but coaches send players into the game.
* Illinois scored 55 points on 60 possessions. Despite the offensive struggles, it was really the second half defense that let them down in this one. The Buckeyes scored 38 points on 33 possessions in half #2. For an offensively challenged Buckeye team, that's a big number.
* Aaron Craft, while a good player, probably gets away with more than any other player in college basketball. I don't understand why ever screen a big guy sets is watched closely, while Craft is allowed to put two hands in a guys chest and shove them when he sets a screen or tries to get open. When you watch the replay, he did at least 5 times during the game. When Loving or Egwu then get called for an illegal screen, it makes it a joke.
* This was a physical game, much like old time Big Ten basketball. Freedom of movement be damned. Literally, they could have called 5 fouls in 4 seconds during one Illinois possession.
* Bad offensive teams miss easy shots. Ohio State missed a dunk, and we know that Jon Ekey is currently attempting to set a Division I record for tip dunk misses. Egwu, Tate, Rice, Abrams all missed layups at the rim, some uncontested. You are going to have bad shooting nights, but the bunnies are what can separate wins from losses.
* Everyone knows OSU forces turnovers, yet Illinois still was very laissez faire with the ball at times. Thus, they have turnovers on 25% of their possessions. That means that even though Illinois shot it better (more on that below), their offensive number was still poor.
* Illinois has now passed Northwestern and they are not the worst shooting team in Big Ten history. They have a .1% lead on the Wildcats (40.9% vs. 40.8%) in effective FG%. So, there's that.
*Illinois is currently projected to lose their next 7 on Kenpom.com, which would mean 12 in a row, but you have to believe with the way they are close in these games that they will be able to steal a couple.