The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

January 15, 2014

Illini try to regain shooting touch

Purdue is looking for second straight conference victory

BY CHAD DARE cdare@dancomnews.com
The Commercial-News

---- — CHAMPAIGN — Purdue men’s basketball coach Matt Painter is hoping the Illinois Fighting Illini do not suddenly reacquire their shooting touch.

After shooting better than 50 percent on shots inside the arc in their first 15 games, the Fighting Illini were an woeful 34-of-105 from that range in losses at Wisconsin (95-70) and at Northwestern (49-43) this past week.

Painter knows with Illinois returning to the State Farm Center for tonight’s 8 p.m. game against his Boilermakers, the Illini (13-4 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten) are going to play better, but he hopes it isn’t too good.

“They haven’t had down performances at home. Our focus goes on how they played against Penn State and Indiana,’’ said Painter about Illinois’ first two wins in Big Ten play. “The thing that really concerns me, they are really struggling shooting the basketball, yet they have guys that can shoot. Whenever that happens, you don’t want to be the team they take it out on, when they shoot 70 percent from the field in a game.’’

Considering his team scored a season-low 43 points on Sunday, Illinois coach John Groce isn’t concerned with his team’s offensive execution.

“We have to continue to execute,’’ he said. “I though we executed fairly well on Sunday. We just have to step up and make a few more shots.’’

And that could be difficult again tonight as the Boilermakers (11-5 overall, 1-2 in the Big Ten) are holding their opponents to 41 percent shooting overall and to just 45 percent inside the 3-point arc.

“It looks to me that their defense is continuing to improve and get better,’’ Groce said. “They have been playing a lot of guys. I think they have had seven different lineups in their last 10 games.’’

The one consistent in all but game this season with the Boilermaker lineup has been sophomore guard Ronnie Johnson and senior guard Terone Johnson. Those two are the leading scorers for Purdue, combining for 25 points and 6.1 assists per game.

“Obviously, the two Johnson brothers are very talented,’’ Groce said. “Their tempo is a lot higher than in the past. You have to get back, get the ball stopped and get your defense set.’’

The Boilermakers are averaging 77.3 points per game and they have scored 69, 79 and 70 in three Big Ten games, and if the past is any indication, Terone Johnson will be a major concern for the Illini.

“He has been a load,’’ Groce said. “You look at his statistics in his career against Illinois, last year he had 25 in one game and 18 in the other game. He is really talented offensively and he scores in a multitude of ways.’’

Groce admitted that Terone Johnson is very similar to Illinois junior guard Rayvonte Rice.

“Both of them are pretty strong guards,’’ he added. “Both of them can hurt you from long range, mid-range and they both drive the ball well. I think what makes both of them so good is their versatility. They score in a lot of different ways.’’

But Rice’s status for tonight’s game is questionable with an abductor strain suffered in the loss at Northwestern.

“I won’t know until we practice (on Tuesday),’’ Groce said. “He’s came in and got treatment the last two days. A lot of it will depend on practice. Then the doctors, our sports medicine staff and myself will make a decision on Rice.

“We are not going to do anything to harm our guys.’’

Rice isn’t the only Illinois player that is banged up right now, so Groce allowed his team to take Monday off from practicing.

“The biggest thing is making sure that we our guys minds and bodies back, especially the body part,’’ he said. “We had a couple of guys dinged up, so on Monday, we spent a lot of time on the mental part. We will be a little fresher than normal (for Tuesday’s practice). We will see how it goes with some guys.’’

On Sunday, Illinois junior guard Tracy Abrams stated that it was up to the leaders to get the team turned around. He also said the loss at Northwestern was just part of a tough Big Ten Conference.

“Every game is a separate entity,’’ said Groce on Tuesday. “You can’t get caught up in, does the last game affect this game, good or bad. Does the last game affect Purdue. You have to look at every game in singular fashion. Every game is different. We have to treat it as such. That’s why we consider it 18 rounds.’’

Tonight’s game is the fifth round for Illinois and the game will be televised by the Big Ten Network, while locally, the game can be heard on WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1.

Game 18 Purdue Boilermakers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Site -- State Farm Center in Champaign When -- 8 p.m. Records -- Purdue 11-5 overall, 1-2 in the Big Ten Conference; Illinois 13-4 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten Rankings -- Neither the Boilermakers nor the Fighting Illini are rated in the latest Associated Press Top 25 Poll. Television -- Big Ten Network Radio -- Fighting Illini Sports Network with Brian Barnhart and Jerry Hester. Local stations include WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1. Previous results -- Purdue leads the all-time series with Illinois 96-85, but the two teams split their games a year ago. The Illini won in Champaign 79-59 on Feb. 13, 2013; while the Boilermakers won in West Lafayette 68-61 on Jan. 2, 2013. Last games -- The Boilermakers defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers 70-64 on Sunday; while the Illini lost to Northwestern Wildcats 49-43 on Sunday. Up next -- Illinois will host the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday; while Purdue is at home against the Penn State Nittany Lions on Saturday. Starting lineups -- Purdue: G Rapheal Davis, 6-5, so.; G Ronnie Johnson, 6-0, so.; G Terone Johnson, 6-4, sr.; F Basil Smotherman, 6-5, fr.; C A.J. Hammons 7-0, so.. Illinois: G Tracy Abrams, 6-2, jr.; G Joseph Bertrand, 6-6, sr.; G Rayvonte Rice, 6-4, jr.; F Jon Ekey, 6-7, grad; C Nnanna Egwu, 6-11, jr. Scoring leaders -- Purdue: T.Johnson 13.6, R.Johnson 11.4, Hammons 9.3; Illinois: Rice 18.1; Abrams 12.6, Bertrand 11.0. Rebounding leaders -- Purdue: Hammons 6.8, Errick Peck 4.9, T.Johnson 4.0, Jay Simpson 4.0; Illinois: Ekey 6.1, Rice 5.9, Bertrand 5.8, Egwu 5.7; Abrams 4.1. Assist leaders -- Purdue: R.Johnson 3.8, T.Johnson 2.3, Bryson Scott 1.5; Illinois: Abrams 3.3, Jaylon Tate 2.4, Rice 1.8