CHAMPAIGN — Not pleased with his team’s toughness in a loss at Purdue to open Big Ten play, coach John Groce challenged the Illini, and they responded with a dominating 74-55 win against then-No. 8 Ohio State on Saturday at the Assembly Hall.
Now, with eighth-ranked Minnesota coming to town Wednesday, the task is to duplicate that effort.
“We don’t want that to be a thing where it’s every other game. The challenge is to do that night in and night out when you play,” Groce said. “To do that, you’ve got to have the right mind-set and make sure you’re mentally and physically ready to compete.”
The Illini (14-2, 1-1 Big Ten) dropped one spot in The Associated Press poll released Monday. The Gophers (14-1, 2-0) moved up a spot after wins against Michigan State and Northwestern.
The continued improvement of UI sophomores Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu caught Groce’s eye.
The 6-foot-11 Egwu netted a career-high 16 points and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds against the Buckeyes. Point guard Abrams, last week’s Big Ten Player of the Week, had 13 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“I think Abrams is getting better; I think Egwu is getting better. We’ve gotten consistent play from our seniors throughout the season. That’s been great as well for us in terms of being a more consistent ballclub,” Groce said. “The biggest thing with Tracy is he brings a competitive toughness to our team and to the table. I thought he did that on Saturday at a pretty high level. He had active hands, and I thought he did a great job of blocking out in situations when we needed him to do that.”