Illini struggles defined by, but not limited to, three-pointers

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Illini struggles defined by, but not limited to, three-pointers

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Live and die by the three-pointer was a clich before it was ever applied to this installment of the Illinois mens basketball team. But clichs dont become clichs on accident.

The Illini lost their third straight game on Thursday night, their second consecutive loss to an unranked opponent (68-54 to Northwestern), while shooting just 3-20 on threes. The string of poor play is certain to send the team crashing out of the top 25 polls, a precipitous fall from their number 11 ranking at the turn of the year.

Related: Northwestern's road success continues in win over Illinois

In the Illinis last three losses, the team has made a total of eight shots from behind the arc out of 67 attempts. Thats just 11.9 percent on three-pointers since beating Ohio State on Jan. 5 25 percentage points off the teams average from the first 16 games of the season.

In other words, Illinois has died by the three-pointer.

But three point shooting is just one piece to the puzzle, according to first-year coach John Groce.

To me the whole things start with the defense. We have to get stops, he said. Were not getting as many threes in transition because our defense has so many holes in it.

Threes are cool, but you have to get stops to get those shots in transition, Groce added.

The Illini defense has been woeful of late, getting outscored 226-172 in the last three games. The reasons for the collapse are a mystery to Groce and his players, however.

Not knowing the source of their problems has not stopped the players from taking responsibility for their errors, however. After the Northwestern loss guards Brandon Paul and Tracy Abrams each shouldered the burden for the poor play.

Were spotting teams points and we cant do thatthats not how you play in the Big Ten, Paul said. We as players have to figure out what we have to do to move forward.

Abrams echoed the senior, adding that the problems lie within the group as a collective.

Its about the team, the team is one we are one. We have to do a better job of defining our role and playing our game, Abrams said.

In the last two games, Groce explained, the team has played hero ball, in which they try to make the spectacular play in an attempt to narrow a deficit. If the team played more like the style he has tried to instill, the style they played during their 12-0 start to the season, he believes this slump could be behind the Illini.

Theyre trying to find the balance here in year one, he said. We have to keep doing what we dowere doing a lot of what we were doing when we were 12-0.

One thing Paul feels he and Abrams can do, as point guards, to pull the team from the slump, is take ownership.

Tracy and I have to do a better job of facilitating our offense, the senior said. Tracy and I as captains, point guards, have to do better to get us on our game.

In Groces words, losing doesnt feel very good, but he knows things cant continue the way they are. Until we get our defense addressed the results dont change, he said.

By all accounts the Illini are trying not to make a habit of losing. With their latest loss, however, the Illini are just 1-4 in conference play. With big games against Michigan (twice), Indiana and Ohio State left on the schedule, though, time might be running out for Illinois.

Preview: Eastern Illinois, Southern llinois in action today on CSN

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AP

Preview: Eastern Illinois, Southern llinois in action today on CSN

College basketball is back on CSN on Saturday as two local teams will be featured in live conference matchups.

In the first matchup at 11 a.m., Eastern Illinois will host Austin Peay in an Ohio Valley Conference clash on CSN+ while the second matchup has Evansville hosting Southern Illinois in a Missouri Valley Conference game at 1 p.m. on CSN.

Eastern Illinois (9-8, 1-3) is coming off of a conference loss to Murray State. Junior guard Montell Goodwin leads the charge for the Panthers as he's averaging 14.8 points per game on the season. Austin Peay (5-13, 1-3) just earned a tight win over SIU-Edwardsville to help end an 11-game losing streak. Junior Josh Robinson is having a strong season despite the losing as he's averaging 21.2 points per game for the Governors.

The second game will be on the main CSN at 1 p.m. as Southern Illinois (10-8, 3-2) tries to bounce back from a loss to Bradley. The Salukis are led by sophomore guard Armon Fletcher as the Edwardsville product leads the team at 13.7 points per game.

Evansville (10-8, 1-4) is coming off of three consecutive losses as the Purple Aces are trying to figure things out at home. Senior Jaylon Brown has been one of the Valley's premier scorers this season as he's putting up 20.9 points per contest.

MVC basketball doubleheader on CSN

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USA TODAY

MVC basketball doubleheader on CSN

Missouri Valley Conference basketball is back on CSN on Wednesday as a doubleheader begins at 6 p.m.

In the first game, Loyola will travel to Wichita State to face the Shockers in a 6 p.m. tip while the second game features Northern Iowa traveling to Bradley in a game that tips at 8 p.m.

Loyola (12-5, 2-2) has won two straight games as Chicago products Milton Doyle (Marshall) and Donte Ingram (Simeon) are both playing well. Doyle barely missed a triple-double in a win over Northern Iowa and followed that up with a career-high 35 points in a win over Bradley. Ingram has returned from a knee injury to give the Ramblers a boost as he had 25 in the win over Northern Iowa.

Wichita State (14-3, 4-0) has won five straight as they once again look like one of the Valley's best teams. Junior forward Darral Willis Jr. leads the Shockers in scoring at 12.1 points per game while sophomore Markis McDuffie is putting up 11.8 points per game. 

[RELATED: Complete NCAA coverage]

The second game of the doubleheader features Northern Iowa taking on Bradley. The Panthers (5-10, 0-4) have dropped five straight games as they're struggling to find help for senior guard Jeremy Morgan.

Bradley (7-10, 2-2) is coming off of a home loss to Loyola but they've had a solid bounceback season in head coach Brian Wardle's second year. The Braves only won five games all of last season as the roster has been revamped for this season.

Freshman guard Darrell Brown paces the Bradley offense at 12.2 points per game while junior forward JoJo McGlaston is putting up 9.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.