Despite losing at No. 19 Ohio State on Thursday, Illinois heads into its final regular-season game on Sunday with plenty at stake.
The No. 23 Illini dropped to fourth place in the Big Ten Conference with the loss to the Buckeyes. And while Wisconsin’s win on Saturday eliminated the possibility Illinois could earn a share of the conference championship, the Illini (20-10, 12-7) still have a huge incentive to win when they host No. 18 Iowa (20-10, 11-8).
A win would give the Illini a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament, which begins Wednesday in Indianapolis.
Sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu said the Illini have to play with more urgency after allowing the Buckeyes (21-9, 11-8) to outscore them 41-26 in the second half. Dosunmu was a one-man team against the Buckeyes, scoring most of his game-high 21 points on an efficient 9-for-14 shooting display against double teams, while his teammates combined to shoot 15-for-41 from the field.
“We gave up a lot of silly plays, but we know what we can do to fix it,” Dosunmu said. “We’re going to come out Sunday and try to get a win. That’s all you can do at this point of the season. You can’t pout.
“We came out playing like we were the last team in the league. We didn’t have that urgency. But it’s all good. The team knows what’s at stake. We lost this one — of course we wanted to win a Big Ten championship — but we’re on to the next. That’s life. You’ve got to play your cards that are dealt. We lost this one, so we’re ready for Iowa.”
The Hawkeyes are also in contention for a double bye in the tourney after the Illini’s loss. The winner of Sunday’s game earns the No. 4 seed in the tourney, allowing them to bypass games in Thursday’s second round and open in Friday’s quarterfinals. If the Hawkeyes beat the Illini, they hold the tiebreaker for No. 4 spot over Illinois, Ohio State and Penn State.
Iowa is looking to build momentum after dropping two of its past three games, including a 77-68 decision to Purdue at home on Tuesday.
“(Purdue) played like they needed this game,” Iowa junior center Luka Garza said. “You can’t give up 21 offensive rebounds, especially when points off turnovers is 25-10. That’s not a recipe for success.”
The Hawkeyes defeated the Illini 72-65 on Feb. 2, with Garza leading the way with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Garza notched his 15th double-double with 26 points and 12 boards against Purdue. Garza broke Iowa’s single-season scoring record in the loss but is more concerned with a bounce-back effort against the Illini.
“I don’t think the effort was there,” Garza said. “We had a couple where we fought back, but I don’t think we fought back to the best of our abilities.We could have made a couple more runs at it. It’s a tough one, especially after a loss like that at Purdue, to not have what we need to have. It’s something we’re going to learn from and it gives us more motivation for Sunday.”
–Field Level Media