No. 15 Iowa 81, UI 74: 'Ticked me off'

No. 15 Iowa 81, UI 74: 'Ticked me off'

CHAMPAIGN — During Illinois’ current seven-game losing streak, one thing has remained constant: John Groce enters the postgame news conference that upbeat guy whom Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas says “makes caffeine nervous.”

After losing by 25 at Wisconsin, being held to 43 points at Northwestern or a loss at home against Purdue, Groce has answered questions afterward with a high-energy demeanor.

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After Saturday’s 81-74 loss to No. 15 Iowa at State Farm Center, the second-year Illinois coach spoke in a quieter tone, seemingly down in the dumps.

It had nothing to do with the career highs of 15 points and 12 rebounds Iowa’s Gabe Olaseni recorded off the bench. The 20 second-chance points his team yielded on 15 offensive rebounds wasn’t to blame for the mood, either.

What had the 42-year-old coach down after his team’s seventh straight loss was the way it was received by some of the 16,618 in attendance Saturday.

“I was ticked off. People were booing. Ticked me off. I don’t like that. You can say stuff about me. Don’t touch my guys. I think that’s unacceptable,” Groce said. “The Orange Krush was phenomenal.”

Insults started flying in the direction of the Illini from the home fans when the Hawkeyes (17-5, 6-3 Big Ten) took a 34-13 lead with 7:34 to go in the first half. Some questioned the team’s heart. Others questioned the playing rotations and coaching philosophies. All of it was enough to get under the typically unflappable Groce’s skin.

“I know we weren’t playing great, but we’re counting on our building to be positive,” Groce said. “These guys are fighters, man, they’ve been through a lot. They battle. I was really proud of them. Certainly, I’m not saying everyone did that, because that would be unfair. Let’s root for Illinois in our building.”

Illinois (13-9, 2-7) gave the orange-clad folks something to cheer about from that point on, mounting a furious comeback, eventually taking a five-point lead midway through the second half. But, like so many other times during this losing skid that’s reached 24 days, the effort and the fight just wasn’t enough to hang a notch in the win column.

“That one stings just because of how hard our guys played. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of our toughness and togetherness in a loss since I’ve been coaching in my six years as a head coach,” Groce said. “We’re right there.”

Joseph Bertrand led all scorers with 20 points for the Illini. Rayvonte Rice (nine rebounds) added 13 points while Tracy Abrams poured in 11.

Freshmen Kendrick Nunn (four assists) and Malcolm Hill each scored seven points and helped spark the Illinois comeback.

“How many teams down 21, after what they’ve been through the past couple of weeks, would be able to come back from down 21 against a Top 25 nationally ranked team? Not very many,” Groce said. “It takes a certain mental toughness to be able to do that.”

The Illini were better on Saturday than they have been of late, shooting 44.6 percent and scoring 74 points, highs during the losing streak. It still wasn’t enough to stop the bleeding against the high-octane Hawkeyes, who got 17 points — all in the second half — from Roy Devyn Marble.

When Groce laid his head down Saturday night, surely his brain was spinning trying to figure out how he and his staff can get this team over the hump. What he’s not losing sleep over, however, is the effort of his guys.

“We played with a lot of toughness, a lot of togetherness. Really played with a lot of grit. I thought they fought for everything,” he said. “I told them in the locker room after the game that I’m proud of them. I love them.”

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Illinois88 wrote on February 02, 2014 at 2:02 am

Dear Coach Groce - big fan of your efforts to revitalize the Illini after the Weber era - however, this is not the time to start criticizing the fans that paid to attend the game, even if there were a small fraction there that decided to boo when your team was down by 20 points. Complaing about the fans will not get you anywhere. Not acceptable to just chalk it up to supporting your players. Keep up the good work in other ways.

gotcha2 wrote on February 02, 2014 at 8:02 am

I said to a friend when the game was almost over that the players and coaches have nothing to hang their heads low about. The players played hard and played as a team. They also played with heart and seemed at times to be having fun. For those few fans that booed - boo back to you! Hang in there coach and players - you have many more supporters than nay sayers!!




DaisyJ wrote on February 02, 2014 at 9:02 am

John Groce,you are ticked off...hum,,,tell that to the Grant in Aid people spending upwards of $5000  up just for the right to even buy a ticket to watch the latest in YMCA

offenses. Tell us what plays your ran last night. Please tell us what offense you run, ??

Is it Kansas, UCLA,,,or just the new one you allow, MINDLESS PIcking

RAM wrote on February 02, 2014 at 11:02 am

Call me old fashioned but I agree with Coach Groce.  I am as disappointed as anyone when the Illini play poorly but just because I paid $ to attend the game or give money to Grants In Aid I do not feel it is appropriate to boo these players.  Having worked with young athletes for many years, I know that no one is more disappointed when they play poorly than the athletes themselves.  I just see it as piling on for us as Illini fans to boo our guys.  Polyannish?  Maybe so but there it is.

Coach Groce has brought a breath of fresh air to the Illini basketball program.  Let's give him a good home environment to show potential recruits and support the guys on campus now.

illinibball1 wrote on February 02, 2014 at 11:02 am

I don't really post much on here as I rather read the comments of others for entertainment; however it's disappointing to hear some "fans" boo for the home team.  Is it because they're tired of seeing loss after loss pile up or the lack of effort from both the coaches and players? Or are these the same "fans" that called for Weber's job realizing the results from a new coach aren't happening as quickly as they want them to?  Realistically I see the season as bad as the 98-99 year..then look what happened afterwards for next 6 years.  This is a rebuilding year and the expectations weren't/aren't high.  As long as the freshman learn and the juniors and seniors keep fighting then not making the NCAA tourney won't be a disappointment.

jturner wrote on February 02, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Some thoughts on booing.  1. If the team is so tough, it shouldn't bother them or the coach.  2. Coach says boo me not the players, maybe the majority of the boos were directed at him - his game prep and bench coaching. 3. dogs bark, fans boo - it one of the few ways they have to express themselves.  4. It can indeed become inappropriate if excessive or overly personal (both subjective measures). - I refer you to a national sports column a few years back where an Illini fan was observed louding calling out Illini players in a very person way for poor play and decisions.  Did I say fan, I meant leader of the program  - our former Atheletic Director.  Keep it in perspective, play better.

Lefty55 wrote on February 02, 2014 at 2:02 pm

I take it some of you folks do not go to Wrigley or Soldier Field.  You reel off seven in a row and what do you expect?  Illinois booers (I have not been to the hall for years) are usually some of the most enthusiastic fans.  You want positive energy then do something positive.  Yanking the freshmen who led you back into the game at the end probably wasn't it. 

To the booers:  Boo away, but leave profanity and personal crap out of it.  That said, I want those fans in The Hall when it gets turned around.  They are enthusiastic and want the success.  Beats the old cogers who neither cheer or boo.  You have to earn loyalty in Illinois.  The Cubs earned it 1908 and those morons still root for them.  A team that hasn't won a pennant since WWII......can you imagine?  Enough about trainwrecks. 

90% of us love coach Groce.  When Coach gets the other 10% he will know he has made it.  Winning is very sweet in Illini country.  Never forget that fans or coaches.  I think it may be sweeter than anywhere in the country.  Those 10%ers are what make it so.