WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Not many, if any, Big Ten teams are going to win on the road allowing 90 points per game.
That’s a big reason why the Illinois Fighting Illini find themselves 0-3 in the games away from home in the league after a 91-68 loss to the 21st-rated Purdue Boilermakers before 13,920 at Mackey Arena on Tuesday night.
“The defense is the one common denominator,’’ said Illinois Coach John Groce, who has seen his team fall at Maryland (84-59) and at Indiana (96-80) before the 23-point setback on Tuesday. “You have to defend, especially when you are playing away from home in this league.
“We know that. Our guys know that. We have to be better.’’
And Illinois senior forward Malcolm Hill made sure that his teammates knew that after the game.
The typically mild-mannered Hill expressed himself before even the coaches had a chance to talk with the team.
“We just need to be more prideful on the defensive end,’’ said Hill, admitting that was the clean version. “I don’t think we are caring enough on the defense end. It starts with me. I think people are too worried about offense. It’s my job to get that fixed.’’
But, it’s not just one area on the defensive end that is giving the Fighting Illini problems.
On Tuesday night, Purdue (15-4 overall, 4-2 in the Big Ten) got things started by making five 3-pointers in its first 10 shot attempts.
“They got loose from the 3-point line,’’ Hill said. “They started off with five 3s. From that point, they were just playing inside-out on us.’’
Purdue made just two more 3-pointers in the game, but the tone had been set on the offensive end.
In the second half, the Boilermakers turned things over to their inside duo of Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. They combined for 31 second-half points and 46 points in the game.
“I don’t think it made it easy,’’ said Haas about his team’s ability to knock down five 3-pointers in the game’s first six minutes. “It gave us confidence. It definitely let us get our head up. Because we were getting open shots, it wasn’t like we were taking contested 1-on-1 shots.
“We were moving the ball and getting wide open looks. It gave us confidence. We just kept moving it and ultimately that led to winning the game.’’
Purdue not only shot a very good 60.4 percent (32-of-53) from the field, but the Boilermakers were also an impressive 20-of-22 at the free-throw line (90.9 percent).
“Offensively we weren’t great, but defensively, we were worse,’’ said Groce. “We have to be a lot more consistent. We have to defend better than we did today.
“Ironically, we got to the line the same amount as they did — 22 times. We didn’t cash in like they did. They made 20-of-22 and we made 11-of-22.’’
Hill wasn’t the only Illini senior taking blame on Tuesday.
Maverick Morgan, who had a team-high 15 points for Illinois, which falls to 12-7 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten, admitted this loss was ‘’embarrassing.’’
“It’s tough to play on the road, but everyone does it,’’ he said. “It’s a number of things, but it starts on the defensive end. We can’t tie our offense to our defense and vice versa. Our defense needs to get better, quick.’’
Purdue finished with five players in double figures with Haas leading the way with 24, while Swanigan had his 15th double-double of the season with 22 points and 10 rebounds — all defensive.
But, it was freshman guard Carsen Edwards that scored 10 straight points in the first half that helped the Boilermakers open up a 19-5 lead in the game’s first seven minutes.
“He is an x-factor,’’ Groce said. “He is aggressive, he competes, and he plays hard.’’
Edwards finished with 14 points, while Vincent Edwards had 11 and P.J. Thompson completed the double-digit scorers for Purdue with 10.