Maniscalco knows sinking feeling
CHAMPAIGN — The last time Illinois went through a stretch in which it was struggling to win games like it is now was two years ago. Joseph Bertrand, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu were regulars in the Illini rotation during a six-game losing streak in what turned out to be the final season of Bruce Weber’s nine years as the head of the program.
Sam Maniscalco was a fifth-year transfer on that team, starting at point guard when his oft-injured ankle would allow.
“It’s tough. It’s definitely not fun going through a losing streak like that,” Maniscalco said. “You’re trying to figure out why it’s happening, what the cause is. You’re looking for a solution.”
After Thursday’s 62-55 loss at No. 17 Ohio State, John Groce’s Illini are looking for solutions to end the current five-game slide ahead of Sunday’s game at Indiana.
“Everything is fun and easy when you’re winning,” Maniscalco said. “It’s when you really hit adversity, how do you respond to that? How do you react to that? That’s what kind of defines you as a person and as a team. That’s when your character comes out.”
There’s pressure on this current team to win and have success coming off last year’s NCAA tournament appearance. But it’s nothing compared to what that 2011-12 team dealt with in terms of outside distractions.
Losers of 12 of the last 14 games of the season, the Illini had to answer questions about Weber’s job security from the outset of that campaign until the end when he was fired.
“That was a different monster. That’s a whole different element,” Maniscalco said. “It’s not something we directly paid attention to. It wasn’t on the white board in the locker room. Indirectly, that stuff was brought to our attention. In the gas station, at Wal-Mart, Jimmy John’s, everywhere we went people were asking about it.”
The Illini ended their six-game slide two years ago with a home win against Iowa before losing three straight to close the season.
“It’s a good feeling getting that monkey off your back ending a losing streak. You can exhale a little bit and see the hard work paying off,” Maniscalco said.
This current group isn’t dealing with the added pressures from two years ago, but that doesn’t make the losing any easier. It’s not an issue of effort. Illinois is just not executing at a high-enough level while playing in one of America’s elite conferences.
“When you’re down, people want to kick you. You’ve got to stay focused on what’s ahead, put your blinders on and take care of business as a unit,” Maniscalco said. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens to these guys. They’ve got great guys on the team, great kids. I think Groce is good with being as positive as he can. With his approach, that translates to the guys.”