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Egwu lays lots of eggs, contributing to four-game skid by Illini

NCAA BASKETBALL

NCAA BASKETBALL

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Updated: January 21, 2014 12:15AM



In the Big Ten, only Northwestern ranks lower than Illinois in points per game, field-goal percentage and three-point-shooting percentage. So let’s just all agree right now that, offensively, the Illini are a subpar group, and that it would be unreasonable to expect that to change.

The offensive problems, which have led to a four-game losing streak in league play, are widespread.

Rayvonte Rice has shot just 30.4 percent and averaged 12.5 points during the losing streak, dropping from first to fourth among Big Ten scorers in the process. Jon Ekey has made only nine of his last 35 three-point shots. Joseph Bertrand disappeared offensively against Michigan State and Northwestern.

Among players, there’s a lot of blame to go around. But no one is struggling — and, we must assume, suffering — quite like junior center Nnanna Egwu.

If the Illini (13-6) are going to save their season, the 6-11, 250-pound Egwu will have to rediscover his game — and then elevate it from there — and do it all in a hurry.

Over the last eight games, Egwu is 15-for-58 from the field. When was the last time you heard of a starting big man his size shooting that poorly? Given the position he plays, that should be impossible.

This isn’t some unskilled oaf, either. Remember his game-winning three early this season out in Las Vegas? Against UNLV, Oregon and Missouri, Egwu was a combined 5-for-6 from behind the arc.

And he bulked up by over 20 pounds in the offseason in order to help his inside game. It was supposed to be a different Nnanna.

Instead, some Illini fans are chanting: “Nnanna, Nnanna, hey, hey, hey, goodbye from the starting lineup.”

Egwu has misfired on his last 11 threes. After scoring in double figures six times in the first 10 games, he hasn’t done it since. A player who had one scoreless outing in his first 51 games as a starter was scoreless in consecutive games last week, against Purdue and Michigan State.

It seems almost cruel to add that he had more fouls (eight) than rebounds (six) in 55 minutes of action in those two games.

“He’ll figure it out,” Groce said after Saturday night’s loss to the Spartans. “I’m sure he’s got to fight through it a little bit.”

The Illini need him to win that fight immediately.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slgreenberg



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