"It's just a matter of you being tough," he said with emphasis. "I give those guys a little bit of credit. It's a matter of you being tough."
The Illini understand the point but struggled to execute it again.
The 48-39 loss Saturday night to Ohio State was their fifth straight at State Farm Center and their 10th of 11 games overall.
Other than a slump-breaking game from Abrams with 13 points and a career-high rebounding night of 14 from Nnanna Egwu, the Illini played through an offensive bog.
They shot only 28.3 percent from the floor, barely better than the 28.1 percent they shot in a season-low outing at Northwestern. They managed only 16 second-half points. Illinois scored 0.66 points per possession, which was its worst offensive outing in the Big Ten since 2009 at Minnesota, according to a Tweet by ESPN's John Gasaway.
"Obviously our offense was anemic," coach John Groce said.
The Illini (14-12, 3-10 Big Ten) could have taken advantage of an offensively unimpressive Buckeyes team, which shot only 38.3 percent for the game. They allowed No. 22 Ohio State (20-6, 7-6) to hit 47.4 percent in the second half.
Aaron Craft led the Buckeyes with 14 points, while no other Buckeye reached double figures.
But it was the Buckeyes' defense that made the difference. Of Illinois' 13 turnovers, 10 were Ohio State steals, which it converted into 15 points.
"That means a lot of live ball turnovers," Groce said.
Rayvonte Rice, who started the game cold, 1 of 6, made three field goals late to close the Illini within 44-39 with a minute remaining. Finishing with 11 points, his efforts were too late after he spent most of the game almost as ineffective offensively as his scoreless outing in the Illini's January loss in Columbus.
"We were playing him straight up," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "We didn't do anything special strategically."
The Illini started the game efficiently, scoring 10 points in the first four minutes and building a 17-11 lead midway through the first half. But Illinois started the second half shooting 1 of 9 as the Buckeyes went on a 10-2 run to erase the Illini's three-point lead at halftime to go up 30-25.
The Illini continued to unravel and suffered through scoring droughts that lasted more than five and seven minutes each in the second half.
"The second half I did sense a little bit of discouragement with some of our guys over the offensive end," Groce said. "That's just maturity."