Washington, D.C. — The last two games, all Illinois really needed to do was win and their NCAA tournament dreams were all but guaranteed. Instead, the Illini looked like they weren’t ready to play either game. Thursday, on the biggest stage of the season, and with the most at stake for both the team and head coach John Groce, the Illini lost by 20 to Michigan.
The walk back to the locker room was a long one for the Illini after getting blown out by Michigan. Head coach John Groce and senior Tracy Abrams were the last ones off the court, greeted by Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman. Illinois got out to another slow start, down 15-4 early, they never caught up.
“I thought we were going to come out with a lot more fire,” Malcolm Hill said. “That starts with me. I could have showed up more for the team.”
“We knew what was at stake today but I’m sure we had like 18 more games before this to figure it out and get some more wins and get the job done,” Tracy Abrams added. “But at the end of the day I’m proud of what we did the last few weeks.”
Now the focus shifts squarely on to head coach John Groce and his future with the program. He’s missed the NCAA tournament four out of the last five years.
Bret Beherns: “Do you expect to be back next year?”
Groce: “Sure, you know that’s, as long as, I’m the coach today and I always expect that. You know for me I look at it one day at a time. I approach it that way, let’s put it that way. Every single day, it’s my job to do that.”
Bret: “When you meet with Josh what will your conversation be like and what will you tell him about the future of the program?”
Groce: “No differently than what we’ve talked about. We obviously know we’ve got a lot of freshmen and sophomores and a lot of those guys have learned a lot and started to play well here the last four to six weeks. We’re fully aware of who we have coming in in our recruiting class so I feel good and I want to keep coaching these guys.”
Groce also said that he’s going to meet with Whitman soon to talk about whether to accept an invitation to play in the NIT or not. They will announce the brackets Sunday night. We could know a lot more about Groce’s status by that point too.