Coming off its lowest-scoring effort in 24 years, Illinois should be happy to return home where it’s been practically unbeatable this season.
Hoping to remain in the Top 25, the No. 19 Illini look to bounce back while trying for an eighth straight home victory over struggling Iowa in a Big Ten contest Sunday afternoon.
Illinois (17-4, 5-3) continued its recent league road troubles with a 59-36 loss at Minnesota on Thursday. Despite shooting a Big Ten-leading 47.1 percent on the season, the Illini shot 29.4 percent in scoring its fewest points since a 54-34 loss to Purdue on Jan. 30, 1985.
“You feel as low as you can feel,” said Illinois coach Bruce Weber, whose team was outrebounded 44-29. “It’s a humbler, that’s for sure. If it isn’t, we’re in trouble.”
After a third straight Big Ten road loss, Illinois returns to Assembly Hall, where it is 11-1 and has won eight in a row—including all four league contests.
The Illini have averaged 68.3 points while shooting 49 percent in Big Ten home victories over Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Illinois is averaging just 57.0 points and shooting 40 percent while going 1-3 on the road in conference play.
Facing Iowa (12-9, 2-6) could help extend Illinois’ success at home. The Hawkeyes, who have lost six straight in Champaign since a 78-72 loss on Feb. 21, 1999, have lost five of their last six contests overall and are 0-4 in the league on the road.
The Illini won 58-47 at Iowa on March 1 in the only meeting last season.
Illinois, though, still needs to improve on its play from Thursday while facing a Hawkeyes team yielding 58.7 points per game. Dominique Keller scored a team-high nine points off the bench against Minnesota while Illinois’ starters combined for 18 points.
Averaging a team-leading 12.2 points, sophomore guard Demetri McCamey looks to bounce back after being held to six against the Gophers. He did score a season-high 25 in the previous game, a 64-57 win over Wisconsin on Jan. 24.
Even if the Illini struggle again offensively, they have a chance to compensate on the defensive end.
Allowing a Big Ten-best 56.7 points per game, Illinois has limited conference opponents to 50.5 points on 36.7 percent shooting at Assembly Hall.
That doesn’t bode well for Iowa, which is 10th in the Big Ten in scoring at 62.3 per game and coming off a 71-56 loss to No. 9 Michigan State on Thursday.
Playing without senior forward and leading rebounder Cyrus Tate for the fifth straight game due to a high ankle sprain, sophomore Jeff Peterson had 14 points and freshman Matt Gatens added 13 for Iowa, which trailed by as many as 22 before getting within nine with 5:55 to play.
“Looking at our Big Ten record, it may not be where we want it to be but when you look at our level of play. I think our play shows progress,” Iowa coach Todd Lickliter said. “We are getting better.”
Tate is doubtful for this game and not having freshman guard Anthony Tucker also has taken a toll on the offense. Tucker, who averaged 10.4 points while shooting 42.7 percent from 3-point range in 14 games, is academically ineligible this semester.
Iowa has lost seven straight games to Top 25 teams and is 1-9 versus ranked opponents under the second-year coach.
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