The season has become a death march for the Illinois basketball team. A string of close losses finally buried the Illini, who didn't have much fight for the second straight game. When Illinois went scoreless for more than 8 minutes late in the second half, Michigan took control in a 49-43 Big Ten Conference victory Saturday at Crisler Arena.
The season has become a death march for the Illinois basketball team.
A string of close losses finally buried the Illini, who didn't have much fight for the second straight game. When Illinois went scoreless for more than 8 minutes late in the second half, Michigan took control in a 49-43 Big Ten Conference victory Saturday at Crisler Arena.
Coach Bruce Weber described the Illini as "beaten down.''
"It hurts people to even come to the gym sometimes,'' Illini guard Chester Frazier said. "It seems people aren't excited to play basketball anymore. There's a lack of energy. We don't play hard. We don't screen. We don't move hard.
"(Losing close games) is the story of the year, and the story gets old. It's still college basketball even though we're losing right now. We have to come up and be ready to play.''
Times are hard for the Illini, who needed a win for a share of ninth place in the league. Despite an appearance from former Fab Five stars Jalen Rose and Jimmy King, Michigan's energetic band director stole the show.
Illinois fell to 11-17 overall and 3-12 in the Big Ten. The Illini are within one loss of tying the school record for defeats in a season, and the Illini still have three games left in regular season before the Big Ten tournament.
"It wears on you,'' said Illini guard Trent Meacham. "There's no question about that. We didn't play great, but we hung with them. We were stuck on 35 forever. They made some buckets, and we maybe froze little bit.''
Playing without senior forward Brian Randle, who is likely to miss the rest of the season after separating his shoulder against Wisconsin on Wednesday, Illinois couldn't get much going inside and shot 32 percent.
Randle and center Shaun Pruitt combined for 38 points and 17 rebounds in an 18-point win over Michigan in January, but Pruitt managed only six points and four rebounds while losing five turnovers. Forward Rodney Alexander started in place of Randle and failed to score.
"We keep trying to be enthusiastic and positive,'' Weber said. "Our guys are beaten down. You can see it emotionally and mentally. Our body language isn't great. We need somebody with better body language. Chester has to do it. Demetri (McCamey) has to do it.''
The Illini get a chance to regroup this week. Illinois doesn't play again until a road game against Iowa on Saturday (5 p.m., Big Ten Network).
Junior Calvin Brock came off the bench to score a team-high 12 points. Meacham had 11. McCamey, who averaged 15 points over the last five games, scored just three points on 1-for-7 shooting.
The Illini went 8:09 without scoring in the second half and 11:48 without a field goal, leaving Weber searching for help.
"Pray. Hope for a bucket. Ask coaches for any play,'' Weber said. "We went through different plays. We drew up new plays. The last time we played them, we scored 75 points.''
Illinois led 35-31 with 13:10 left but didn't score again until Pruitt made two free throws to force a 37-37 tie with 5:01 left. Illinois didn't make another field goal until Brock's basket pulled Illinois within 45-40 with 1:22 left.
Fouled while making a 3-pointer, Brock couldn't hit the free throw but still trimmed the lead to 46-43 with 36.3 remaining.
"As the season goes on, it's taken a toll on some people,'' Brock said.
Michigan (9-18, 5-10) won despite 26.7-percent shooting in the second half. The Wolverines have won fourth time in the last five games.
"This is one of those grind-it-out type of games that sometimes you can refer to as a win that makes a huge difference in your development,'' Michigan coach John Beilein said. "Nothing seemed to go well. We kept working and grinding and trying to stay positive. At any rate, it's a great win for us.''
NOTES: Illinois redshirt freshman forward Rich Semrau didn't make the trip to concentate on academics, a team spokesman said. … The Illini take today off.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. For more coverage, read Illini Talk blog at www.sj-r.com and www.pjstar.com.
Illinois report card
Front court: F
Shaun Pruitt had almost as many turnovers (five) as points (six). Forward Rodney Alexander started in place of injured Brian Randle but did nothing with it. Maybe the Illini should go more to a four-guard offense.
Back court: C-
Trent Meacham was the only Illini starter to reach double figures, but Demetri McCamey failed to provide a scoring option down the stretch. McCamey and Frazier combined for 13 rebounds.
Besides the 12 points from Calvin Brock, there wasn't much of a contribution from the reserves. Mike Tisdale was the only other substitute to score for the Illini.
Illinois is one loss away from tying the school record with 18 losses in a single season. With the way the Illini played in their last three games, it seems a lock that the record will fall. Illinois doesn't play again until a road game at Iowa on Saturday.