7, 31, and 10.4… 7 of course being the current Illini hoops losing streak, the worst in years. Last night the Orange and Blue got down big to loathsome Iowa – 21 down in fact in the first half. Texted my brother that they looked football-team bad. Now that’s saying something… People where booing in the
Hall State Farm Center, which not only ticked off Coach Groce (and yours truly), it seemed to trigger something.
Illinois started playing hard and making some shots, and they roared back. Went to halftime only down four. The Illini actually took the lead and built it to five in the second half, but then Iowa countered. And the emotional toll of such a big comeback as well as the now familiar lack of execution in the final 3-4 minutes yielded another defeat. There were plays to be made at the end, and Illinois couldn’t make them. Egwu couldn’t quite catch the ball on an in-bounds right in front of the basket (would’ve been a dunk). Abrams’ contact drawing-drives drew no fouls, while on the other end Marble’s drives (even with no contact) got the whistle. Classic Big 10 Refs. Jon Ekey airmailed an open three (he was cramping up from too many minutes). And down we go. Again.
31 as in points-per-game combined for the three players in street clothes this season. That’s a little more than 10 apiece from Darius Paul (last year’s MAC Freshman of the Year), Aaron Cosby (Seton Hall), and Ahmad Starks (Oregon State). That’s quite a scout team. Certainly those three will help alleviate some of the scoring issues next season, even as Ekey and Joe Betrand graduate.
10.4 per game is what Starks averaged as a point guard last year. As Illini fans know, the NCAA decided not to grant him a 4th year transfer waiver, or he would be playing this year. Coach Groce was certainly hoping for that last fall, and when you see the execution problems late in games, you can’t help but flip the collective bird at the NCAA and their yo-yo decision (either do away with waivers altogether or provide clear guidelines on the policy). Starks was also a 40% three-point shooter last year, and who knows how many driving lanes would re-open with him on the floor…
At least they fought back last night. They could have quit, down so much and just looking terrible, with the home fans starting to turn on them. But they didn’t. Let’s hope we see a similar effort and just a little better execution against the Badgers on Tuesday. We certainly owe Bo and his team one.