UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The last time the Illinois Fighting Illini won a men’s basketball game it was against the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Today, Illinois will attempt to snap the school’s longest losing skid in 40 years when the Fighting Illini travel to Happy Valley for the second contest of the year against the Nittany Lions.
But, according to Illinois coach John Groce, the Fighting Illini will need to get back to playing solid defense like they did in the first matchup.
“We won that game because we defended,’’ said Groce on Friday. “That’s the drum that we will beat the next day or two is trying to get that back, imposing our will on the defensive end.
“If it was a toughness issue or a chemistry issue or a togetherness issue, than I would be really concerned. But it’s not. At the end of the day, we have got to do the best that we can to get the absolute most out of this team. I proud of their collective toughness through the 23 games.’’
Ironically, the defense was one area that had been pretty solid for the Fighting Illini, even during their eight-game losing streak. But in Tuesday’s 75-63 loss to Wisconsin, Illinois managed just two defensive stops in the final eight minutes.
“That was a little bit discouraging,’’ Groce admitted. “Our calling card the majority of the year, the one thing that we have been fairly consistent, was defending in the half court.’’
So just as the Fighting Illini (13-10 overall, 2-8 in the Big Ten) seemingly has corrected one problem, offensive production, a new one has developed.
“We are trying to get our defensive disposition back, I thought our offense in the two home games was as good as its been in a long time,’’ Groce said. “I thought our ball movement was good. I thought we took care of the ball well.