Same story for Illini: Offense hard to find vs. Hoosiers

Same story for Illini: Offense hard to find vs. Hoosiers
January 26, 2014, 10:45 pm
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Vinnie Duber

The story was the same in the Illini's sixth straight loss Sunday. That's why they call it a streak.

A team struggling to do much of anything on the offensive end struggled to do much of anything on the offensive end against Indiana, dropping another conference game, 56-46.

The Illini defense played fine, holding to the Hoosiers to roughly 40 percent from the field, but the Illini's offensive attack was again ineffective, shooting just 33 percent and getting almost half its points from one player.

"We defended pretty well, when you look at percentages and what they shot from the field, to give us a good shot to win the game. We just didn't get it done offensively," Illinois head coach John Groce said after the game. "I thought our execution against the zone wasn't great. We did much better at it the first time that we played them. We have executed really well against the zone all year, but (Sunday) we didn't do so great against it. I thought a key moment was when it was 50-44 and we had six straight possessions where we came up empty. There was a great window for us to make up ground, but we just didn't do it."

[MORE: Wolverines now clear team to beat in Big Ten]

The Illini opened Big Ten play with an overtime win over these Hoosiers, a victory that was a large part of getting the Illini into the top 25 before this free fall began. Six straight losses have followed, and almost all of them have seen Illinois struggle mightily to get the ball in the basket. Along the way, Groce has had to answer questions about toughness, rebounding and struggling veterans, but the offense coming up empty has remained an unwanted constant.

"I think it's different each time, but I would say the common denominator is our offense. We have got to score," Groce said Sunday. "We need to make a few more plays and get in a few more shots. As coaches we have to look at the quality of shot we get. I think there are some games that we've had some good looks, but (Sunday) I thought our quality of shot was not great, especially late in the game. Joseph Bertand had some really great looks early and then went 0-for-5. We just have to make a few more of those. The one thing about bad shooting, I mean it's not like they're trying to miss them, they just have to figure out how to get them in the hoop. Our margin for error is so small. We are not good enough to not have everybody hitting on all cylinders for us to beat quality basketball teams. I've known that from the jump. We have to get to where we can get everybody in sync and everybody playing well simultaneously."

[RELATED: Northwestern can't come full circle in loss to Hawkeyes]

A positive for Illinois on Sunday was the performance of Rayvonte Rice, who dropped 20 to snap a four-game cold streak that hit a low point in a scoreless outing vs. Ohio State.

But even with Rice's solid game, the rest of the Illini kept coming up empty. Bertrand was a particularly glaring gap in the offense, going 1-for-11 from the field with only two points. He was one of four Illini players who hit just one basket despite playing solid minutes: Jon Ekey was 1-for-5, Tracy Abrams was 1-for-4 and Kendrick Nunn was 1-for-6. Add together Rice's 20 and next leading scorer Nnanna Egwu's eight, and those two players accounted for all but 18 of the team's points.

So, as has been written many times during this ongoing Illini skid, the offensive woes continue. But the worse news for orange-and-blue nation is that they show no signs of improving. Sunday's 46 points marked the team's second-lowest scoring output of the year. Over the past five games, Illinois has averaged just 52.8 points, and next up is a ranked Iowa team. If the Illini have hopes of catching the Hawkeyes, they're going to have to solve these offensive issues in a hurry. Iowa leads the Big Ten with an average of 85.2 points per game.