Weber reflects on tenure after loss to Purdue

The Illinois men’s basketball once again struggled to win a close game against a Big Ten foe.

Poor shooting and costly turnovers plagued the Illini in a 67-62 to the Purdue Boilermakers on Wednesday at the Assembly Hall, marking Illinois’ fourth loss by five points or fewer against conference opponents.

The loss was also the seventh in eight games for the Illini, who have also lost their last seven meetings against the Boilermakers.

“Sooner or later, (the players) have got to take the accountability and do things they practice,” Illini head coach Bruce Weber said in a lengthy opening statement at the postgame press conference. “It still comes down to myself and the staff if they’re not doing it. I guess we’re not instructing them well enough.”

Also before taking questions, Weber questioned the leadership of the team, remarking that Tracy Abrams,a freshman, was the one speaking to the team in the locker room after the game. He then critiqued his team’s preparation.

“Instead of creating toughness and developing a team, I coach not to lose all year,” Weber said. “And that’s really sad to be honest, but it is what it is.”

His critique was not limited to the current season.

“I think the last three years, all I did was worry about winning instead of developing a culture and a toughness,” Weber said. “And that’s my fault, and it’s sometimes the kids’. We’re always mollycoddling them. Sooner or later, if you’re a player, you’re a player.”

Illinois (16-10, 5-8 Big Ten) shot 25-for-55 on Wednesday but was just 3-of-20 from 3-point range.

Purdue (17-9, 7-6) led by as many as 13 in the second half, but the Illini were able to make it interesting over the game’s final six minutes. After Illinois came within six, sophomore Joe Bertrand delivered a dunk, which he followed on the next possession with a layup. But after the Illini came within two, Purdue senior Robbie Hummel responded with a jumper.

Abrams answered at the other end, hitting a jumper of his own before the two players traded baskets again, making the score 64-62 Purdue.

A foul by junior Brandon Paul would send Hummel to the line, where he would hit just one of his two free throws with 19.5 seconds left.

Illinois inbounded the ball after Weber called a timeout with 11.7 seconds left. On the inbounds play, Leonard passed to Paul, who took an off-balance 3-pointer that rimmed out and trailed out of bounds to give the ball back to the Boilermakers.

“I don’t know what he was thinking, to be honest,” Weber said.

After a quick foul, Hummel was sent back to the line. This time, he hit both free throws to finish off Illinois.

Abrams led the Illini on the night with a career-high 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting.

“I was just trying to attack and be aggressive,” Abrams said. “It was working, I was finishing a little bit more.”

Junior Brandon Paul finished with 19 and Bertrand added 12.

Illinois, now in a three-way tie for eighth in the Big Ten, travels to Nebraska on Saturday. Three of Illinois’ five remaining regular season games are on the road, including trips to No. 6 Ohio State and No. 15 Wisconsin.