Illinois basketball stumbles against Miami

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Illinois basketball stumbles against Miami

Illinois' Rayvonte Rice (24) drives towards the basket during the game against Brown at State Farm Center, on Nov. 24, 2014. The Illini won 89-68.

Illinois' Rayvonte Rice (24) drives towards the basket during the game against Brown at State Farm Center, on Nov. 24, 2014. The Illini won 89-68.

Illinois' Rayvonte Rice (24) drives towards the basket during the game against Brown at State Farm Center, on Nov. 24, 2014. The Illini won 89-68.

Illinois' Rayvonte Rice (24) drives towards the basket during the game against Brown at State Farm Center, on Nov. 24, 2014. The Illini won 89-68.

Tuesday’s game against Miami was the Illinois men’s basketball team’s first real test of the year. Illinois didn’t pass.

The previously undefeated No. 24 Illini (6-1) dropped a 70-61 contest to No. 15 Miami (8-0). The loss was due in a large part to the Illini’s poor shooting.

Coming into the game against Miami, head coach John Groce had said on multiple occasions that if the Illini had an open shot, he wanted his players to take it.

This year Illinois has lived and died at the 3-point line, and it worked to start the season.

Through six games, Illinois was averaging 90 points per game, good for fifth in the country. The Illini were shooting 48.2 percent from the field, 43.4 percent from 3-point range and 76.5 percent from

the free throw line.

Groce attributed the team’s early-season success to focus.

The Illini took a step backward against the Hurricanes: Illinois shot 33.3 percent from the field, 23.3 percent from three and 66.7 percent from the free throw line.

The Illini routinely forced up quick 3-pointers and took shots from a foot or two behind the 3-point line multiple times in the game. Illinois also didn’t share the ball as well as it had in prior games, finishing with only seven assists, the Illini’s lowest total of the season.

At times the team looked like it did last year, relying on senior guard Rayvonte Rice to carry it offensively. Rice led the team with 22 points and 12 rebounds, but Malcolm Hill was the only other Illini to crack double figures (13 points). Transfer guards Aaron Cosby and Ahmad Starks shot a combined 10 percent from the field, contributing 18 of the team’s 46 missed shots.

On the defensive side of the ball Illinois also stumbled. In its first six contests, Illinois had given up 70 or more points just once and held their opponents to 36.2 percent shooting from the field.

On Tuesday, Miami shot 37.9 percent from the field, 30 percent from three and 81 percent from the free throw line. The Hurricanes also shared the ball better than the Illini, finishing with 12 assists.

Coming into the game, Groce knew that Illinois’ defense would be tested by Miami’s quick, aggressive guards. The Illini allowed the Hurricanes’ three starting guards to score 38 of the team’s total points, while redshirt freshman guard Deandre Burnett added 19 off the bench.

Illinois will need to improve dramatically on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball if the team wants to have success moving forward. After playing American on Saturday, the Illini will play their toughest two-game stretch so far this season, including neutral-site games against Villanova and Oregon, teams that are both led by explosive guards.

While the Illini and fans alike may hang their heads after this loss, head coach John Groce pointed out before the game that Illinois isn’t a finished product yet.

“I still don’t think we’ve played a complete 40-minute game yet,” Groce said Monday. “Which is encouraging, because I think we’ve played some really good basketball, but I think our ceiling is still high.”

Nicholas can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @IlliniSportsGuy.