Illinois moved into the Top 25 despite struggling offensively last week. A matchup with Ohio State doesn’t seem likely to help the Fighting Illini end their scoring woes.
The 25th-ranked Illini look to snap a five-game losing streak to the Buckeyes when the Big Ten rivals meet at Assembly Hall on Tuesday night.
Illinois (15-3, 3-2) has faced four ranked teams in its last five games, going 3-2 in that span en route to entering the poll Monday.
Last week, the Illini split two games against ranked teams despite being held under 70 points in each contest. They beat then-No. 25 Michigan 66-51 on Wednesday night and lost 63-57 to then-No. 7 Michigan State on Saturday.
“I told our kids, the key word is ‘coachable.’ They have to listen and learn if we’re going to make strides,” Illini coach Bruce Weber said of his team, which can match last season’s win total Tuesday. “We have to pick up our intensity. We have to finish games against top teams in the country if we’re going to be one of the top teams in the country.”
Illinois has four players averaging double figures in points and is scoring 70.1 per game on the season. The Illini, though, may have a tough time keeping that average up when they face the Buckeyes (13-3, 3-2).
Ohio State hasn’t lost to Illinois since falling 84-65 on Jan. 5, 2005, holding the Illini to 55.4 points per game and 34.8 percent shooting during its five-game run. The Buckeyes have been outstanding on the defensive end of late, going 2-0 last week while holding both opponents under 60 points.
“Coach (Thad Matta) challenged us to be tough defensively,” Buckeyes swingman Evan Turner said.
After beating the Wolverines 65-58 on Saturday, Ohio State received 20 votes in balloting for this week’s Top 25.
The Illini, though, should be able to match up defensively with the Buckeyes. They lead the Big Ten in scoring defense at 57.0 points a contest.
Illinois held Michigan State to 21.4 percent shooting from 3-point range and 40.0 percent overall while forcing 18 turnovers. The Illini, however, missed a chance to move into a first-place tie in the Big Ten.
Two of Illinois’ top players had poor games offensively. Leading scorer Demetri McCamey missed all nine of his field-goal attempts and Trent Meacham was 1-for-7, with the players combining for three points. The duo averages 23.5 per game.
Turner, leading the Buckeyes with 15.9 points a contest, had 19 versus Michigan. He added eight rebounds and six assists in his team’s third straight victory.
Freshmen William Buford scored 15 points and was named Big Ten player of the week Monday. The 6-foot-5 guard is averaging 17.5 points while shooting 46.2 percent (12-for-26) from 3-point range over his last four games.
Though the Buckeyes have dominated in recent years, they trail 100-64 in the series with the Illini. Turner had 14 points in the teams’ last meeting, a 64-58 Ohio State win last Jan. 22.
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