Illini Really Having Trouble Winning at the United Center

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This used to be the Illini playground. It used to be their second home.

Overall, Illinois is 32-11 all-time at the United Center, but that statistic seems disconnected from reality on a day like today when the Illini offense was so ugly it was an insult to college basketball.

With the 64-48 loss to unranked UNLV, the #19 Illini dropped their third straight game at the UC, and fifth of the last six on Madison St.

The Chicago Bulls ‘ home used to be like a homecourt for Illinois, but not these days: the Madhouse on Madison has become maddening for those who were orange.

The Illini entered undefeated, one of just nine left in the nation. And this game in Chicago was a critical showcase for recruits, boosters, alumni and fans, many of which reside in the Chicagoland area. This was a solid, wire-to-wire, beaten soundly in all facets kind of defeat. The absolute opposite of what you’d want to market your program in the nation’s third largest market.

So are the Illini having issues playing in front of family and friends? Eight players on the current roster have Chicago connections.

“I think it was more Vegas than anything, than the building,” Illini Coach Bruce Weber said showing respect to the opponent.

“Some days are like this and it’s just sad that it happened here today because it’s a great chance to capitalize on being up here with recruits and fans and gain support,” he continued.

If a rising tide lifts all boats, then a receding tide brings down all boats, yachts and small craft alike, as Illinois’ four best (and most important) players all had wretched games. Meyers Leonard was constantly beat on the boards by an energetic, quick Rebels team. He was also a putrid 1-6 from the foul line.

Sam Maniscalco was an embarrassing 1-10 from the floor, Brandon Paul wasn’t much better at 2-12. D.J. Richardson led the game with 19, shooting well from three (5-8), but a very poor 6-17 (1-9 within the arc) from the floor.

And as bad as the field goal percentages were (25% for the game, 23% in the second half), the foul shooting was terrible too, as the Illini made just half their free throws.

“They just out-toughed us from the get go, I thought we picked it up in the second half but we just couldn’t get the ball in the hoop whether it two-pointers, three-pointers, or free throws,” Weber said.

“You make a few of those like we’ve made all year, and then maybe you have a different kind of game.”

The last time these two teams met was in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, which Illinois ran away with early. They won 73-62, but led 46-24 at the break. This was the Rebs’ first ever win over Illinois in four tries.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports

A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; and he’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.

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