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.

Saturday on CSN: Bradley vs. Nevada; Illinois State vs. New Mexico

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USA TODAY

Saturday on CSN: Bradley vs. Nevada; Illinois State vs. New Mexico

CSN will have two quality college basketball matchups on Saturday as two Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge games will be featured live.

Bradley (4-3) has Nevada (6-2) in town for a 7 p.m. game Saturday on CSN while Illinois State (3-2) will host New Mexico (5-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday on CSN+.

The Braves have alternated wins and losses all season as they hope to build momentum off of a road win over Eastern Illinois.

Freshman guard Darrell Brown paces Bradley at 15.3 points per game on 48 percent three-point shooting while junior guard JoJo McGlaston is putting up 12.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest.

Nevada enters this one winning four of their last five games as senior guard Marcus Marshall is averaging 20.0 points and 3.9 assists per game. Sophomore forward Cameron Oliver has been generating some pro buzz as he's averaging 16.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44 percent from three-point range.

In the second contest, Illinois State is hoping for a key non-conference win against a quality opponent. Senior forward Deontae Hawkins is doing some solid damage as he's averaging 16.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while junior forward MiKyle McIntosh is at 14.2 points and 7.2 rebounds a game.

Proviso East product Paris Lee is also having a good year at guard for Illinois State.

New Mexico is led by a former area product as Homewood-Flossmoor graduate Tim Williams is averaging 19.0 points and 6.9 rebounds per game for the Lobos. Junior guard Elijah Brown, the son of former NBA coach Mike Brown, is also playing well for New Mexico as he's putting up 15.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

Preview: Northern Iowa takes on George Mason tonight on CSN+

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USA TODAY

Preview: Northern Iowa takes on George Mason tonight on CSN+

Northern Iowa looks to snap a two-game losing streak as they host George Mason tonight. You can catch this game live on CSN+ at 7 p.m.

The Panthers (3-2) have lost both games to Xavier as Northern Iowa matched up with the top-25 team for the title in the Tire Pros Invitational in Orlando before losing to them on the road less than a week later.

Northern Iowa does own some solid wins over Oklahoma and Arizona State as they're led by senior Jeremy Morgan, who is averaging 16.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game -- which all lead the team. 

Junior forward Klint Carlson has also been strong for the Panthers as he's put up 12.2 points per game while shooting 44 percent from three-point range.

George Mason (3-2) has won three consecutive games -- with two of those wins coming by four points or less. The Patriots haven't played anyone as good as Northern Iowa yet as they beat Kent State, Bradley and James Madison.