Illinois coach John Groce said Saturday he declined to look backward when asked about the team’s inability to put together back-to-back regular-season Big Ten victories since 2014-15.

But he was willing to look back as recently as Tuesday, when Illinois played arguably its best game of the season with a victory at Northwestern. The comparison was stark to Saturday’s 83-70 loss to Penn State at State Farm Center.

"I love our older guys but I do expect more from them in terms of consistency and some intangible areas," Groce said. "They had it Tuesday and that’s why we won. Today we had it in parts. I want to see it for 40 minutes more consistently."

But when? At this point in the season, it’s safe to say the Northwestern victory was an aberration.

It’s important here to recall that this is February, the you-are-who-you-are portion of the Big Ten season.

"We have to look at the film," point guard Te’Jon Lucas said. "Correct it and move on. We have a lot of games left."

Well, not really. Give Lucas a break because he’s a freshman trying to say the right thing at a postgame news conference, but the truth is only five games remain. That’s not a lot of time to fix so much that has troubled the Illini (14-12, 4-9 Big Ten).

The Nittany Lions (14-12, 6-7) are hardly offensive juggernauts. They entered the game ranked 12th in conference games averaging 68.6 points per game and 13th in shooting (40.8 percent).

Against Illinois, Penn State shot a season-best 57 percent from the field and recorded its highest point total in a regulation Big Ten game this season. Groce compared the Nittany Lions’ athleticism to Florida State’s when looking for a common opponent they resemble, but that’s — no pun intended — a stretch.

After beating Northwestern, Groce stated pride in the Illini’s ability to hold its three last opponents to less than 40 percent shooting collectively.

"At the end of the day, there are times I’d like to jump out there and play," Groce said on the postgame radio broadcast.

Former Illini great and broadcaster Deon Thomas aptly quipped, "You and me both."

Illinois closed a 19-point Penn State lead to just five with a 14-0 run after Tracy Abrams hit a 3-pointer with 5 minutes, 7 seconds remaining. Groce said he considered calling a timeout but decided to ride the momentum of that run.

But Penn State used back-to-back three-point plays to swing the momentum back to its side and upped its lead to 11 in a matter of two possessions.

The Illini, who shot 48 percent from the field, were led by Malcolm Hill’s 14 points.

"I don’t feel any loss is a letdown," said sophomore guard Jalen Coleman-Lands, who finished with 12 points. "You have to learn from it."

The Illini have had plenty of lessons, and its setback against Penn State was a hard one.

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