Losing streak reaches five games as team struggles at line

 

 

By David Just

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The four-game losing streak the Illini found themselves in after losing to Wisconsin on Thursday was a first for Bruce Weber’s team.

That dubious honor is the first for an Illini team in the last nine seasons and the first since 2002 to three straight Big Ten teams.

The 62-58 loss to Indiana on Sunday brought the overall losing streak to five – and it hurts, guard Trent Meacham said.

“We’ve had a lot of disappointing losses this year, but this one probably hurts the worst,” he said. “It should help our confidence, though.”

Playing against the highest-ranked team they have faced this season, the Illini kept the score close in a game that saw six lead changes in the first half.

“If you’re gonna win against a top-10 team at their place, you gotta play pretty close to perfect,” Weber said. “They have a lot of weapons. They’re a good team.”

The Hoosier weapon of choice is 6-foot-4 freshman Eric Gordon, who was averaging 23.5 points per game this season entering Sunday’s matchup. That average is best in the conference and ninth in the nation.

The Illini, as was part of Weber’s strategy, were able to limit Gordon to just 17 points. But Meacham said that’s just business as usual.

“Any time you face a player that good you want to shut him down,” Meacham said. “It doesn’t matter if he committed here or not. That’s going to be the focus for any team (Indiana) plays – they want to shut him down, and that’s not easy.”

Weber’s frustration because of the defeat was evident during the postgame press conference.

“I’m frustrated, yeah,” he said about his team’s performance over the last few weeks. “I’m supposed to be happy that we lost? I asked them to fight and play hard.

This is a tough place; I’ve been here many, many times over the years – you gotta play with emotion, and play with intensity and keep the crowd out of it.

And I think we did for the most part, but like all year, there’s just one segment in the second half, and the free throws.”

Free throws, again

The Illini were able to overcome their Achilles’ heel in the first half, but the charity stripe got the better of them down the stretch.

The team entered the game ranked last in the Big Ten in free throw percentage at just 59.3 percent.

But in the first half, Illinois shot 5-of-6 from the line in what was the difference in the score at half.

The second half was another story.

Illinois players shot just 8-of-15 (53.3 percent) from the line in the second half to bring their game total to 13-of-21 (61.9 percent), which is not all that far from the team’s season average.

The game moved their season average up two-tenths of a percent to 59.5.

Brock’s stock

Calvin Brock is averaging 12.3 points per game over his last three.

He has become a permanent fixture in the starting lineup thanks to a 58.6 (17-of-29) field goal percentage in conference play.

He is also 5-of-6 from the beyond the arc and has led the Illini in scoring twice this season.

Quote of the game

Weber said Illinois learned to win after playing Indiana. Meacham’s response:

“That’s funny because we lost. But, yeah, I think we did, you know, we just fell a little short. This game hurts a lot but I probably feel the best about our team that I have all year.”