IOWA CITY — The Illinois men’s basketball team got themselves back into postseason consideration with three straight wins thanks to a suffocating defense.
But the Michigan Wolverines, the outright champions of the Big Ten Conference, sliced through the Fighting Illini on Tuesday night in an 84-53 victory.
Now, Illinois (17-13 overall, 6-11 in the Big Ten) will try to get itself back on track against the Iowa Hawkeyes, who have the No. 1-rated offense in the conference.
“We made too many mistakes on Tuesday night,’’ Illinois coach John Groce said. “The most important thing is how we respond. We have been a team that has fought all year and I don’t see that changing.’’
The 24th-rated Hawkeyes (20-10 overall, 9-8 in the Big Ten) are also coming into tonight’s game off a loss as they suffered their worst defeat of the season, an 86-76 loss at Michigan State on Thursday. Iowa has lost four of its last five games and five of their last eight since a 81-74 victory over Illinois on Feb. 1 in Champaign.
“They are playing in a very similar way,’’ said Groce when asked if he sees anything different in the Hawkeyes. “I think every loss until Thursday has been by 8 points or less, so they have been in some real dog fights. It’s just a play or two, here or there that makes the difference.
“We play in a big-boy league, and we are playing big-boy teams. A lot of these games can go either way with a play or two.’’
That was definitely the case when these two teams met at the State Farm Center on Feb. 1.
Iowa sprinted out to a 31-10 lead over Illinois in the first half, but the Fighting Illini came back to take a five-point lead in the second half.
“That first game was a game of runs and momentum swings,’’ Groce said. “They just made some plays toward the end of the game and I thought we made some mistakes. I was really proud of our effort. Our guys really battled.