Men’s basketball looks to rebound from rough stretch

Head coach Bruce Weber of the Illinois men’s basketball team doesn’t want the Illini feeling sorry for themselves, he just wants them to go out and play.

The Illini will get their chance Tuesday when they travel to Columbus, Ohio, to take on No. 9 Ohio State in hopes of ending a five-game losing streak.

“There’s no pity parties,” Weber said. “Ohio State is not gonna feel sorry for you, they have their own things. We have to come and do a better job — each player, each coach.”

In the team’s most recent game, an 80-57 loss to Nebraska on Saturday, an emotional Meyers Leonard was spotted covering his face by cameras.

The loss was the eighth in the last nine games for the Illini, as hopes of making the NCAA tournament are quickly fading. But with four regular season games left, Weber wants his team to stay focused.

“I told all the guys I don’t want any more tears until the end of the season,” Weber said.

A major contributor to the team’s struggles has been defense, with Illinois giving up at least 50 percent shooting in four of its last five games. Weber said Illinois must focus largely on creating stops on the defensive end to help keep pace with Ohio State.

“We’ve got to guard,” Weber said. “That’s one thing we were doing early, and that gave us a chance to win games.”

The Illini are allowing 42 percent shooting from their opponents on the season, but have allowed 52 percent in the last five games. Weber said some of the struggles can be fixed with a better mentality and intensity on the defensive end.

“Some of it’s fundamentals, pride and a little bit of effort,” Weber said. “We’ve just got to have something to hang our hat on, and we were hanging our hat on that.”

Illinois won the previous matchup between the two teams when junior Brandon Paul went for 43 points on 11-for-15 shooting with eight rebounds and four blocks in a 79-74 win. Leonard also turned in a solid game for the Illini, scoring 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting and having the tough task of guarding Jared Sullinger, a preseason All-American.

Sullinger had 21 points in the game and is averaging 17.5 on the season for the Buckeyes, who have lost two of their last three games.

Leonard will likely match up against Sullinger again, and Weber said a major focal point in defending Sullinger will be keeping him off the low block.

“When you allow Sullinger to (post up deep), he’s almost unstoppable,” Weber said. “If he misses, it’s because of him, not because of what you did (defensively).”

The Illini are currently tied for ninth in the Big Ten Standings with Minnesota, while Ohio State checks in tied for second, one game behind Michigan State.