Rayvonte Rice scoreless vs. Buckeyes as struggles continue

Rayvonte Rice scoreless vs. Buckeyes as struggles continue
January 24, 2014, 11:45 am
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Vinnie Duber

The one-time leading scorer in the Big Ten is having a tough time scoring at all lately.

Illinois guard Rayvonte Rice, who at one point this season was averaging close to 20 points per game, has struggled during his team's current five-game losing streak, a poor stretch for him that reached a new low with a scoreless performance in Thursday night's loss to Ohio State.

The Drake transfer had been a tremendously pleasant surprise for the Illini, who were in dire need of someone to step up and account for points following the offseason departures of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. Rice poured in the points during the non-conference schedule, and he made a statement in his first Big Ten game with a season-high 29 points in an overtime win vs. Indiana.

But as the Illini have started losing, Rice has started struggling. Throw out his 19-point performance in that skid-starting loss to Wisconsin, a game that reached scoring heights thanks to a gargantuan Badgers lead throughout. Since, Rice has scored just 31 points in four games. It started with a terrible shooting performance against Northwestern that saw him make just two baskets. He followed that up with 3-for-9 and 5-for-15 shooting games against Purdue and Michigan State, respectively. Then came Thursday night's oh-fer.

[MORE: Illini can't overcome Buckeyes defense in fifth straight loss]

Prior to the game against Northwestern, Rice's season-low scoring output was 12 points against Chicago State. He hasn't surpassed 12 in the past four games, with his three lowest-scoring games coming in that span.

Rice sustained a hip injury in that Northwestern game, though he's continued to say he's feeling fine. Neither Rice nor John Groce are using that as an excuse for poor performance.

"He'll be the first to tell you, he doesn't have any excuses," the Illini head coach said after Thursday's loss to the Buckeyes. "We have to figure out a way to help him, and he'll probably takes some of that onus on himself. He needs to play a little bit better. And we've got to help him, but I don't think it had anything to do with (the injury), I think it was more Ohio State's defense."

Rice is still the conference's sixth-leading scorer with 16.6 points per game, but perhaps it's no coincidence that Illinois has experienced a lengthy losing streak while its best scorer has gone cold. But perhaps if something can get him going again, it'll be the sight of those Indiana jerseys. The Illini play the Hoosiers on Sunday.