IOWA CITY, IA — The Illinois men’s basketball team won their second Big Ten road game in a row on Saturday with the 70-66 win over Iowa.
It had all the makings of any other game this year. Missed shots, oddly timed substitutions, head scratching turnovers and enough runs to give Illini fans enough hope to stick around.
And for the second straight game on the road, Illinois rose to the occasion despite all the adversity it faced, just the fifth time in head coach John Groce’s five years his team has won back-to-back Big Ten road games.
“The biggest thing with our guys all week during the bye was to re-establish who were are, what it means to be tough and together,” Groce said. “What it means to give Illinois effort and I thought we did that today and responded and were very resilient.”
I asked Groce about all the negativity his team has seen and heard in recent weeks. A good portion of Illini Nation has already given up on Groce and this year’s team, looking ahead to next year and a new coach but Groce said don’t count his team out just yet.
“You know we’re fighting,” Groce explained. “Those guys hear it, they know, they know. And it fires them up a little bit. We’ve got some fighters in that locker room.”
“People are counting us out but we still believe in our team and this staff and that we can still make a run,” Te’jon Lucas said.
“Anything’s possible at this point but like I always say, we’ve just got to take it one game at a time, we can’t look behind,” Malcolm Hill said.
Yes the season sweep of the Hawkeyes is nice but the Illini still have a lot of work left to do if they want to avoid playing in the first day of the Big Ten tournament. Another win over NCAA tournament bound Northwestern would certainly help. The Wildcats come to Champaign on Tuesday.