Illini hope short memory follows team on trip to Ohio State

Three days is a long time for a putrid 38-33 loss against Penn State to fester over the Illinois men’s basketball team. The Illini will attempt to wipe the stink off Wednesday’s woeful performance when they travel to Ohio State on Sunday.

“We talked after wins that you have to go to the next game, the next play, the next game,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said. “It’s the same thing after a loss, you got to go to the next game.”

The loss to the Nittany Lions not only broke a 10-game home court winning streak for the Illini but severely hampered Illinois’ chase for the Big Ten regular season championship.

The Illini (21-6, 9-5 Big Ten) fell to third place, behind second place Purdue, and are now two games back of conference leader Michigan State with one home matchup against the Spartans remaining.

“We’re still in the hunt,” Illinois senior Chester Frazier said. “We’re still in a decent position to do some good things. We just got to take care of business.”

The Illini defeated Ohio State 67-49 at home on Jan. 20, but Illinois has lost three straight at Value City Arena in Columbus. The Buckeyes are 13-2 at home this season.

Ohio State (17-7, 7-6) is also reeling after two straight losses, including a 72-69 loss at Northwestern on Wednesday. Like Penn State, Ohio State is fighting for its NCAA Tournament life.

“We got our backs to the wall,” Weber said. “We got to go to Ohio State. It will not be easy, obviously. They play well there.”

Sophomore Evan Turner has been key for the Buckeyes this season since talented junior David Lighty was sidelined with a broken foot in December. Turner, a 6-foot-7 forward, is a leading Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, averaging 17.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

Frazier limited Turner to four points on 2-of-7 shooting earlier this season despite giving up four inches and will likely defend the gifted sophomore once again.

Ohio State has also received big efforts from a pair of freshmen. Guard William Buford is averaging 15.1 points in Big Ten play and looks to be one of the future stars of the league.

B.J. Mullens, a 7-foot, 275-pound center and possible NBA lottery pick, is also heating up. He has scored in double figures in 10 of the last 12 games.

Sunday could provide the Illini with a chance for redemption following Wednesday’s nadir. But the matchup with the Buckeyes could also be the start of an unraveling for a young Illinois team.

The key may be if the Illini can wipe the Penn State loss from their memory.

“It’s going to be tough for us right now,” Weber said.