BY CHAD DARE email@example.com
---- — BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Illinois opened the Big Ten season with a hard-fought 83-80 overtime victory against the Indiana Hoosiers.
Since then, the Fighting Illini won their next game over Penn State but have lost five straight heading into today’s rematch with the Hoosiers, this time at the Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.
“It’s a month later and a lot has happened since we’ve played them,’’ said Groce, whose Illinois squad is 13-7 overall and 2-5 in the Big Ten. “But a lot of things are still the same. (Yogi) Ferrell’s impact on their team. How good they are in transition and how great they are on the glass. They are second in our league and top 10 in the country in offensive rebounding percentage.’’
But as Groce as pointed out, “they were able to get 23 points in transition. They got 42 percent of the offensive rebounds. We didn’t slow them down in either area.’’
So, how did the Illini pull out the victory over the Hoosiers.
Illinois had three players score in double figures as junior Rayvonte Rice, who was scoreless on Thursday against Ohio State, had a career-high 29 points, including two free throws in the final seconds.
“We were able to win the possession battle, because we took care of the ball — we made some plays,’’ said Groce, whose team committed just 10 turnovers to 23 for Indiana. “I thought we were really good on offense. I think it was one of our better offensive performances of the year.’’
On the Indiana side of things, the Hoosiers have been on a roller coaster ride in the Big Ten. After opening with two losses to Illinois and Michigan State, Indiana had back-to-back wins over Penn State and Wisconsin, but the Hoosiers come into today’s game with a two-game losing streak after suffering a 71-66 loss at Michigan State on Tuesday.
In spite of the setback, Indiana coach Tom Crean saw some things that he liked.
“I’m proud of my team because I think we did a great job the last couple days of establishing even more togetherness and it showed,” he said after the loss.
Ferrell, a sophomore, scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half on Tuesday and the guard comes into today’s game averaging a team-high 17.5 points per game. One difference this time around with Indiana freshman center Noah Vonleh. He came into the conference season with just a single 3-pointer made, but in league play, Vonleh is 9-of-12 behind the arc, including a pair in the first matchup with Illinois.
Illinois junior Nnanna Egwu, who had 10 points and nine rebounds in the loss at Ohio State, will draw that assignment.
“I thought he did a great job defensively the first time,’’ said Groce as Vonleh had 16 points, 10 of those coming at the free-throw line. “His two field goals were both 3s so that will make him even tougher to cover this time around.’’
And while Egwu snapped his two-game scoreless streak at Ohio State, Groce said that isn’t as important as his defense and rebounding.
“He has double-figure scoring game in his career, but his impact is not being a prolific scorer,’’ Groce said. “He needs to defend and rebound. He had nine rebounds in 33 minutes and he made an impact on the defensive glass.’’
But when it comes to scoring, Illinois needs to get Rice, the team’s leading scorer, back on track.
The Champaign native and transfer from Drake has scored in double figures in all but two games this season for the Illini.
“Ray needs to be more aggressive,’’ Groce said. “There were times on Thursday when he forced and there were time where I wish he could have shot it or make a play, but he didn’t.
“He has to find that balance of not forcing it, but being very aggressive.’’
Today’s game is set for 3 p.m. (EASTERN) tip off at the Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. The game will be televised by the Big Ten Network and it can be heard locally on WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1.
Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Indiana Hoosiers Site -- Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. When -- 2 p.m. Records -- Illinois 13-7 overall, 2-5 in the Big Ten Conference; Indiana 12-7 overall, 2-4 in the Big Ten Conference. Rankings -- Neither team is 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 -- The all-time series between Illinois and Indiana is tied at 85-85 after the Fighting Illini defeated the Hoosiers 83-80 in overtime on Dec. 31, 2013 in the Big Ten opener for both teams. Last games -- The Illini lost to the Ohio State Buckeyes 62-55 on Thursday in Columbus, Ohio; while the Hoosiers lost the Michigan State Spartans 71-66 on Tuesday in East Lansing, Mich. Up next -- Illinois will get almost a week off before hosting the 10th-rated Iowa Hawkeyes next Saturday at the State Farm Center; Indiana is at Nebraska next Thursday. Starting lineups -- 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.; Indiana: G Yogi Ferrell, 6-0, so.; F Will Sheehey, 6-7, sr.; F Troy Williams, 6-7, fr.; F Jeremy Hollowell, 6-8, so.; C Noah Vonleh, 6-10, fr. Scoring leaders -- Illinois: Rice 16.6; Abrams 12.6, Bertrand 11.1; Indiana: Ferrell 17.5, Vonleh 12.4, Sheehey 10.4 Rebounding leaders -- Illinois: Ekey 5.8, Rice 5.7, Egwu 5.6, Bertrand 5.4; Indiana: Vonleh 9.4, Williams 4.6, Hollowell 4.2, Sheehey 4.0. Assist leaders -- Illinois: Abrams 3.4, Jaylon Tate 2.3, Rice 1.8; Indiana: Ferrell 3.9, Sheehey 1.7, Evan Gordon 1.5; Hollowell 1.4.