Illinois basketball looks to beat Boilermakers for first time in 7 tries

No player on the current Illinois men’s basketball roster has beaten Purdue.

In the teams’ last six meetings, Purdue has won every game, the most recent a 15-point win in West Lafayette, Ind., on Dec. 31.

The Illini will have the opportunity to change that Wednesday when they face the Boilermakers at the Assembly Hall at 7:30 p.m.

“I’ve never beaten Purdue in my career,” junior Tyler Griffey said. “We always talk about, with them especially, there comes a point during the game where they just turn up the heat a little bit. And we’re never able to recover after that. We know it’s gonna come Wednesday night.”

Purdue and Illinois have been in similar situations this season, said head coach Bruce Weber. Both teams are 16-9 overall on the season, with Purdue boasting seven conference wins to Illinois’ six.

Illinois, however, has had a knack with streaks this season, currently with a three-game losing streak. Weber credits defense as one of the reasons for those losses.

“The biggest disappointment for me in the last three games is just the defense, which is baffling to me because two weeks ago, when we played Michigan State and held them to 41 (points) and 24 percent (shooting). They’re one of the better teams in the country. Something happened in defensive pride and effort.”

In the last three games, Illinois allowed Northwestern and Michigan to shoot 56 percent, while Indiana shot 40 percent.

Illinois junior D.J. Richardson said defense has been the real focus practice this week.

“We’re not getting stops at the end, breaking down and not communicating,” Richardson said. “I think communication is our worst part. Not switching when we need to switch. That’s the main part of our defense that’s the weakest right now.”

The Illini will face one of the Big Ten’s best shooters in Robbie Hummel, who averages 15.6 points per game and ranks fifth in the conference.

“He can get going, there’s no doubt about it,” Weber said. “If he gets in a rhythm, he’s still a very good player. He plays so hard, and he loves to play. And he plays to win, he plays for Purdue. He’s just a good leader.”

Leadership is something Illinois has seemed to lack this season, as turnovers have been an on-going struggle. All but four games have the Illini in double-digit turnovers.

Original starting point guard Sam Maniscalco, who has been plagued with injuries this season, will return against Purdue after spraining his knee against Indiana. Maniscalco did not play against Michigan.

With only six games remaining in the regular season, Weber said this is the time to play with a sense of urgency, not stress.

“Somewhere we’ve got to find a way to get a win, there’s no doubt,” Weber said. “I don’t want them to be stressed, but I do want a sense of urgency and I do want them to play with a sense of desperation. That’s how hard we’ve got to play. … Your heart and your mind gotta be in the right place.”