Ugly milestones achieved for Illinois in loss to Penn State

Illinois+head+coach+John+Groce+walks+back+to+the+bench+after+a+foul+called+on+the+Illini+during+the+game+against+Penn+State+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Saturday%2C+February+11.+The+Illini+lost+83-70.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois head coach John Groce walks back to the bench after a foul called on the Illini during the game against Penn State at State Farm Center on Saturday, February 11. The Illini lost 83-70.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Illini hoops columnist

I sure hope most of you were enjoying the warm February weather rather than suffering through the latest episode of Illinois basketball this afternoon.

Today’s game was as sloppy as the mud soaked grounds of Champaign as Illinois lost 83-70 against Penn State.

It was ugly to watch, but I found some milestones to address.

The first milestone was related to Illinois’ starting lineup.

John Groce pumped out his ninth different starting lineup of the season. It’s the 26th game of the season. It’s frustrating to see that Groce still hasn’t found the lineup he feels comfortable with. I’m curious as to what lineups he is running with in practice. It’s even more frustrating to see the ninth starting lineup fail to do its job.

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    Another milestone to address was Malcolm Hill. The Illini forward eclipsed 50 turnovers on the season after coughing the ball up five times against Penn State. Hill has continued to look out of sync and almost deflated in a way when he’s on the court.

    When Hill was in the game, the Illini suffered a 27-point deficit. Sure, he plays a lot of minutes and Penn State jumped to a double-digit lead by halftime, but this is a little alarming for Illinois’ go-to guy.

    Hill and Lucas both played 33 minutes, but Illinois’ deficit was only seven when Lucas was in the game.

    After Saturday’s game a question was asked to Jalen Coleman-Lands and Groce asking if there has been any type of burdens bestowed on Hill. Both Coleman-Lands and Groce said that is something Hill himself will have to answer, but it makes me think that these remaining five games on Illinois’ schedule could be weighing Hill down.

    The third milestone I want to point out is actually a positive one. It might have been the only positive thing of today’s game. Lucas eclipsed 60 assists on the season with seven assists. Along with his impressive assist total, Lucas dropped 11 points and recorded two steals.

    Lucas continues to impress and be a bright spot for Illinois this season. He is confident and brings energy and life to this struggling Illini team.

    Milestones No. 4 and No. 5 were a group effort. As a team Illinois achieved its lowest rebounding total on the year and allowed the third highest field goal percentage for an opponent this season.

    Nobody was aggressive at crashing the glass or seemed to have a hunger for a rebound as the Illini only snagged 20 rebounds as a team. I expected a lot more out of center Maverick Morgan who secured three rebounds for the Illini. With Mike Thorne Jr. no longer seeing action, Morgan’s bread and butter needs to be rebounding.

    As for Penn State’s offensive production, the Nittany Lions pretty much killed Illinois’ chances of a comeback by halftime. Penn State climbed to a 12-point lead at half thanks to a strong showing from Payton Banks. The Penn State forward, who usually averages about 11 points per game had 15 by halftime. He finished the game with 24.

    It was disappointing to see Illinois allow Banks to get hot and stay hot. It was as if no one on the floor for Illinois realized just how great of a night he was having. There were a few possessions where Banks would be left wide open, which resulted in him burying a shot from deep. Illinois’ defensive effort was poor.

    It was an ugly game with some ugly milestones — except for Lucas. He’s a stud.

     Matt is a Junior in Business.

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    @MattGertsmeier