CHAMPAIGN — It’s no secret that the Illinois men’s basketball team has struggled to win games lately.
Since beginning the Big Ten season 2-0, the Illini (14-12 overall, 3-10 in the Big Ten) have lost 11 out of 12 games and have fallen to dead last in the conference standings as a result.
The latest setback was a 48-39 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, a game that Illinois led 23-20 at the half.
“The second half of the Ohio State game led to some discouragement by the players, but they always come back to practice with their heads up and ready to go”, Groce said of the attitude of the players during this stretch.
The Illini will get another chance to get back on the winning track this evening when they travel to Williams Arena in Minneapolis to battle the Minnesota Golden Gophers in their only regular season meeting of the season at 8 p.m.
“All in all, practice was chippy yesterday,” Groce said of his team’s preparation for the Golden Gophers.
Minnesota (17-9 overall, 6-7 in the league) is coming off of a road win in Evanston on Sunday, where they defeated the Northwestern Wildcats 54-48 at Welsh-Ryan Arena and is overachieving this season under first-year coach Richard Pitino.
The Golden Gophers have contributed much of their success to DeAndre Mathieu, a transfer from Central Arizona College that was a walk-on as a freshman at Morehead State.
Mathieu is averaging just under 12 points per game for Minnesota, second on the team to Andre Hollins, who averages nearly 15 points per game. Elliott Eliason, the Golden Gophers’ talented center, isn’t a threat in the scoring column, but leads the team in rebounds with 7.4 boards per game.
“Minnesota is really talented offensively, and have a couple of guys that can post the ball really well in Maurice Walker and Eliason). They also have multiple guys who can drive and shoot it,” Groce said.