Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois Feels Early Urgency in Big Ten

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois Feels Early Urgency in Big Ten

Article excerpt

ILLINOIS VS. OHIO STATE

When * 6 p.m. Sunday

Where * State Farm Center, Champaign

TV/radio: Big Ten Network, KQQZ (1190 AM)

Records * Illinois 10-4 overall, 0-1 in Big Ten; Ohio State 10-3, 0-0

Of note * Illinois tries to get back on track after a 25-point loss at Maryland in its Big Ten opener; this is OSU's conference opener, having not played a game since Dec. 22.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. * If 2017 is going to be a much better year for Illini basketball, the team has to wait no longer than New Year's Day to prove it.

Just two games into an 18-game Big Ten Conference schedule, there is already an unusual sense of urgency that accompanies Illinois' New Year's Day home game Sunday against Ohio State.

Tuesday's 25-point loss at Maryland sounded alarm bells within the Illini program and coach John Groce and his players were talking in nebulous terms trying to explain the lop-sided loss and how they might bounce back with a victory in the Big Ten home opener.

"Our mindset needed to be better than it was," Groce said this week. "(The players) talk about doing it for Illinois but I want them to do it for each other. They care for each other a lot. We have a very close-knit team.

"We played out of character the other night and didn't stay true to who we are. But we learned a lot through it. We need to respond better."

Illinois has not had much success responding to Ohio State lately. The Buckeyes, who have not played a game since Dec. 22, have defeated Illinois six straight times. Ohio State is 17-5 against the Illini since coach Thad Matta took over and he has brought an enviable level of consistency to the program.

Ohio State has won at least 10 Big Ten regular-season games for 11 consecutive seasons, the longest streak in the league.

This season's rendition of the Buckeyes is still trying to figure out how good it can be. Of Ohio State's three losses, one was to Virginia (No. 6 at the time), the other to No. 2 UCLA.

But in its last game, Ohio State needed a pair of free throws by Kam Williams with four seconds to go to squeeze past North Carolina-Asheville 79-77.

The scoring mainstays have been guards Jae'Sean Tate and JaQuan Lyle and forward Marc Loving while 7-footer Trevor Thompson has been a beast on the glass. …

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