No. 4 MSU 78, UI 62: 'Hang in there'

CHAMPAIGN — When Illinois great Eddie Johnson addressed the current Illini team after Friday’s practice, the central message of what he was trying to get across to them was to block out the negativity.

At that point, Illinois had lost three straight, with No. 4 Michigan State coming to town. After Saturday’s 78-62 loss to the Spartans, the negativity from outside the program is going to continue to ramp up. Some of it was audible early on during Saturday’s contest at State Farm Center.

“Take him out, John!” one of the 16,618 fans in attendance yelled in the direction of Illinois coach John Groce after Nnanna Egwu, who has now gone scoreless in consecutive games, missed a putback layup attempt.

“You’ve got to know when to show up, Joe!” another yelled in the direction of Joseph Bertrand during a game in which the fifth-year senior recorded four points and two rebounds.

The skid is at four, and with three of the next four against ranked opponents, including Thursday’s game at No. 11 Ohio State, the noise outside the Illinois locker room will keep growing louder if the recent struggles continue.

“I don’t pay attention to it because it has nothing to do with our preparation for Thursday’s game,” Groce said. “I talk to them a lot about controlling the controllables. We control our attitude and our effort. I almost encourage them to stay locked in on what we’re doing with our group.”

To spin it in a positive light, there are members of this Illinois team who played key roles on last year’s team that suffered two three-game losing streaks in Big Ten play, only to bounce back and reach the NCAA tournament. They’re being counted on to help the Illini (13-6, 2-4 Big Ten) out of their first four-game slide since late in the 2011-12 season.

“I can hear those guys talking about how to handle it,” Groce said. “That’s good. Experience is a great teacher, and those guys do a good job leading.”

Frustrations from Groce himself were evident during Saturday’s game as the second-year coach was hit with a technical foul after he took off his suit jacket and threw it toward the end of the bench after a series of calls went against the Illini.

“I thought they were terrific,” Groce said when asked about the officiating and his emotional outburst.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo spent a moment talking to Groce in the handshake line after the game. The 19-year veteran has seen it all, and he’s had his share of moments similar to the one Groce had Saturday.

“I know what it’s like and a part of it was how the game went and a part of it’s when you lose three or four in a row because I sure as hell have been there before,” Izzo said. “He’s got a good team. They’ll bounce back.”

Izzo’s got a good team, too, one that broke the mark for the best start in program history with Saturday’s win.

Gary Harris scored a game-high 23 points, while Keith Appling and Denzel Valentine (11 rebounds) scored 11 apiece for the Spartans, who played without injured big man Adreian Payne.

“We got beat by a really good basketball team,” Groce said of Michigan State (17-1, 6-0).

Illinois got 15 points and three assists from Tracy Abrams.

“I absolutely love Abrams,” Izzo said.

Rayvonte Rice and Jon Ekey each added 12 points for the Illini.

But with Egwu struggling in recent weeks and Bertrand having an off night Saturday, freshmen Kendrick Nunn (five points, three rebounds), Malcolm Hill (eight points) and Maverick Morgan (four points, three rebounds) commanded more court time.

“They’ve got to play better,” Groce said of Egwu and Bertrand. “I love all those guys, we’ve got great guys. I’ve got a lot of confidence in both those guys. They can play better, they have played better. They’ve just got to kind of hang in there and figure it out.”

The players, it seems, have figured out how to block out the outside noise.

“It’s not difficult at all. It’s a long season,” Abrams said. “Like Coach said, there’s like 12 rounds left. We (aren’t) going to get too high, we (aren’t) going to get too low on ourselves. We’re just going to keep grinding.”

Comments

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JimOATSfan wrote on January 19, 2014 at 12:01 am

Another tough outing. Just make sure guys you remember to have fun, when making every effort.

SOMEONE PASS THIS ALONG TO AD THOMAS PLEASE

Just in case I am not the last person to know this:

Oracle founder & billionaire Larry Ellison attended Illinois CU for 2 years, then dropped out after the passing of his step-mom. Estimated worth: $41B.  Resides in Woodside CA. (wikipedia is a source, plus The Guardian.com)

Perhaps he would be willing to help out with donations for The Farm or the balance of the Memorial Stadium projects.

Hope this helps UofI,

Cheers

 

 

illini5fan wrote on January 19, 2014 at 6:01 am

Tough nite but the effort was better et we were playing a very good team. That being said, I do think that Nanna is playing worse than he did last year et he is hurting the team way more than helping. Think he needs to sit on bench et give Mav more experience....don't see what it can hurt. Really inexcusable how many close shots he is missing(and yes, i am aware that others are missing layups,etc also). Nanna does NOT need to be shooting 3's period. We all know he isn't the Big we need but don't understand why he is playing so poorly this year. Think we need to play Morgan, Hill and Nunn way more than we are. Yes, they will make mistakes but they are freshmen and they will learn from their mistakes....which not sure can be said about Nanna, Joe, and John. Now that i've vented a little, want to add that i'm still a fan of Groce's et will still be attending the games to support the Illini. Knew this was going to be  a tough year for us and we need to be patient until we have all Groce recruits playing----and someday we will have a Big man AND a true point guard!!! No criticism to Tracy---think he is playing as hard as he can at a position that he has been groomed to play....    

IMAN wrote on January 19, 2014 at 9:01 am

Groce is doing a terrible job, because he teaches street ball and that will not work in the B1G.  Dribble, dribble, chuck or go one on three will not get it done in major college ball.  This is not the freakng MAC, it is the Big Ten, a man's league.   

Additionally, if I hear one more time about our tough defense I will puke.    We are the worst 3 point defending team I have ever seen.  Wide open three after wide open three....and our rebounding efforts are terrible.

Not to mention, you have a Junior PG who has played 30 plus minutes a game for all 3 years and he plays like a freshman in high school.  You have a 5th year Senior who stops the offensive flow and plays smart/under controll/hard for maybe 10 of the 30 minutes he plays.  Then you have a 6'10 post who Groce tells to keep on chuckng from 22, and we wonder why we are getting our butts kicked game afte game?  

Abrams, Bertrand and Egwu need to hit the bench and Hill, Nunn and Morgan need to play 25 minutes a game (Colbert and Morgan split that time as they will both foul out). These freshmen have talent (morgan is really surprising me how fast the big man is developing...big guys take more time to develop than guards) and need to get the experience, becuase this season is over and the Junior/Senior returners aren't going to get any better....so if we are going to lose, lose with a purpose.

Finally, I have said before and will say it againg, Mike Thomas should be fired immediately.  He made a horrific Football hire (17K fans a game is embarassing and that only merits his firing) and I am not sure the Basketball hire was much better.  Groce has good energy and tries to motivate, but I think he may be as bad an in game coach as Beckman and Zook.    I don't want to hear about recruiting because he has yet to land any great recruits.

Signed,

A die hard Illin fan and Alum who is disgusted with our athletic program.