Illinois basketball’s dream of pulling off an upset of a top-5 team like it did three years were quickly put to rest on Sunday afternoon against No. 5 Iowa.
Many Illini fans proudly remember when Illinois pulled off the upset against No. 1 Indiana. The moment is probably the last memorable thing the team has done and might be so for some time to come. Illinois couldn’t find any answers on either side of the court against the Hawkeyes in the Illini’s 77-65 loss.
Head coach John Groce had few excuses, like he has for much of the season. With the lack of players and the remains players’ inability to perform, it’s hard for the head coach to give reason for the lack in wins.
“Iowa is a well-coached team and I want to give them credit,” Groce said. “We have to be more proactive with the pace that they played at.”
The Hawkeyes showed why they are ranked in the top-5 against Illinois. Iowa played a complete game from the start and didn’t show any signs of giving up even when the game was out of reach in the second half. The Hawkeye’s Peter Jok led all scorers with 23 points and also added five rebounds.
Jalen Coleman-Lands led the scoring for Illinois, finishing with 17 points.
Both teams had sloppy starts to Sunday afternoon’s game. After a couple of turnovers, Coleman-Lands made a 3-point shot to start the game. The freshman guard made two more threes to have nine of Illinois’ first 12 points when the Illini trailed 18-12 with over 11 minutes left in the first half.
Three-point shooting was the key for Illinois in the first half — the Illini shot 6-of-13 from beyond the arc. Shooting from the field was another story. Illinois finished the half shooting 11-of-32 from the field , but failed to score easy points throughout the half. The team moved the ball well offensively, but the shots didn’t fall. Big men Maverick Morgan and Michael Finke missed easy layups after grabbing rebounds while other players struggled to score with the open shot, leading to a 38-29 Iowa lead at the half.
“We’ve got to finish our the basket,” Groce said. “(Our shooting percentage) was low, and that’s not good enough to play against a team like Iowa.”
Illinois struggled defensively for much of the game, but a majority of the struggles became apparent during the second half. The Illini had no solutions for both Jok and Jarrod Uthoff, who were Iowa’s top two scorers. Iowa out-rebounded Illinois 43-32 and a 26-6 advantage in second-chance points.
A bright spot for the Illini was freshman D.J. Williams. The freshman finished with eight points and four rebounds, giving Illinois some life when the game died down. Williams said he learned a lot from sitting in the bench and now knows how he can contribute.
“You get to evaluate what the game needs,” Williams said. “My number was called, I know my role and I think I did a great job. I wanted to bring in as much energy as possible.”
The Illini will have a week to evaluate what they need to change in order to compete in games. Illinois will play in Evanston against a surging Northwestern team that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Groce knows his players need to look deep if they want to compete for the rest of the season.
“We have to get better,” Groce said. “We have to be a better basketball team when we show up to play at Evanston on Saturday.”