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Illinois gears up to face Ohio State at United Center

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Illinois gears up to face Ohio State at United Center

Illinois guard Andres Feliz (10) puts up a floater during the game against Georgetown at State Farm Center on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.

Illinois guard Andres Feliz (10) puts up a floater during the game against Georgetown at State Farm Center on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois guard Andres Feliz (10) puts up a floater during the game against Georgetown at State Farm Center on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois guard Andres Feliz (10) puts up a floater during the game against Georgetown at State Farm Center on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.


Though the Illinois basketball program has had several successful players from Chicago in recent years, results have been underwhelming in past games played in the Windy City.

Since 2010, the Illini are 3-5 at the United Center in regular season play and have particularly struggled against higher-quality opponents. Illinois’ three wins have come against Auburn in 2012 and University of Illinois at Chicago, twice, in 2013 and 2015.

The five defeats came to UIC in 2010, University of Nevada in 2011, University of Oregon in 2014, Brigham Young University in 2016 and New Mexico State in 2017. The losses highlight the program’s recent inability to defeat the tougher teams on its schedule, as Oregon had three future NBA players in 2014, BYU won 22 games and ended No. 1 Gonzaga’s undefeated season in 2016 and New Mexico State won 28 games and made the NCAA Tournament last season.

For Illini freshman Ayo Dosunmu, a Chicago native, coming back to his home team is something he is certainly looking forward to.

“It’s gonna be fun,” Dosunmu said. “Of course me playing in Chicago (being) born and raised in Chicago, it’s gonna be a fun feeling.”

Along with losses in the annual United Center game that the program annually plays sometime in December, the Illini did not fare much better in either the 2013 or 2015 Big Ten Tournaments that were also held at the arena.

Illinois defeated University of Minnesota in the first round in 2013, but lost to top-seeded Indiana University in the quarterfinals the following day. In 2015, with a possible NCAA Tournament berth within reach with a victory, Illinois was blown out 73-55 to University of Michigan and had to subsequently settle for an NIT bid.

Senior guard Aaron Jordan hopes to improve his record at the hallowed arena, as he currently sits at 1-3.

“It’s gonna be great, a lot of history in that building (and) a lot of Illinois fans are gonna be there,” Jordan said. “I’ve been doing it for four years, this being my last one. It means a lot.”

Looking ahead to Wednesday night, 19th ranked Ohio State is 7-1 with wins over tournament hopefuls Creighton and Cincinnati already on its resume.

The Buckeyes are led in scoring by sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson (14.5 points per game) and senior guard C.J. Jackson (13.3 points per game).

“Everything starts at the point with (Jackson) and the Wesson in the middle,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “Both those guys are having great years and their team is very physical, probably as physical as any team that we have seen to this point.”

The Buckeyes are averaging 36.9 team rebounds per game, four more than the Illini, led by Wesson’s 6.1. The Westerville, Ohio native will provide a steep challenge for Illinois freshman big Giorgi Bezhanishvili, who has been a bright spot amidst the Illini’s disappointing start.

After the 75-60 loss at Nebraska, Underwood questioned his team’s toughness, which he hopes they can correct before a match-up with an Ohio State team whose physicality concerns him.

“We’ve been taking at nauseam with our guys about toughness,” Underwood said. “We’re not tough enough. It’s a toughness to be disciplined enough to execute and we didn’t do that in Nebraska … we’ve had a good couple of days, so we’ll see how that goes tomorrow.”

@MilesP_H

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