Leonard sticks up for Weber, but the Illini don't do it on the court.

 

 Illinois sophomore Meyers Leonard stood in a hallway leading from the locker room to the back door of Value City Arena following the 83-67 loss at No. 8 Ohio State in Big Ten Conference game, and he had just one request.   "I hope you print this,'' said Leonard, who met with reporters for the first time since coach Bruce Weber's confessional nearly a week earlier following a loss to Purdue.   While Illinois lacked the effort and defensive intensity against the Buckeyes while trailing 19-4 early and by 26 points late in the second half, Leonard went into a long speech about the embattled Weber after the Illini lost for the ninth time in 10 games.   "Coach Weber has been behind every single one of us for the entire year,'' Leonard said. "He's cared, and he never put any of us down. He deserves the best.   "We'll see what happens the rest of the season.''   Although Weber targeted Leonard and guard Brandon Paul during those minutes after the loss to Purdue, Leonard still backed his coach.   "Overall, coach cares,'' Leonard said. "That's why he says stuff. Sometimes, things come out wrong. Things come out through frustration. I don't think it's taken that way that he meant to throw us under the bus or whatever.   "Media negativity and what people see from the outside, they have no idea what the guy goes through everyday and how much he cares about this team and us.''   It would be a little more convincing if the Illini backed up Weber on the court.   The Illini were never in this one. Ohio State used the game like a shooting drill, scoring on 12 of the Buckeyes' first 14 possessions.   Illinois fell to 16-12 overall and 5-10 in the Big Ten. The Illini host Iowa Sunday (5 p.m., BTN) and Michigan on March 1 before finishing the regular season at Wisconsin on March 4. Leonard said "absolutely'' the Illini will win another game this season, but it's going to take something that's been missing.   "We have to find a niche and get a spark and really just care about each other and care about this whole thing,'' Leonard said.   If so, they must show some pride and play defense. In the six-game losing streak, Illinois allowed 50 percent shooting or better in five of the six games. Ohio State shot 65.3 percent.   For the second straight game, the Illini didn't show up.   "The thing that's so frustrating to me is our defense,'' Weber said. "It's something that carried us early and gave us a chance to win games. Now, it's not there.   "That was my complete message to the kids. There are still games to win. A lot of things can happen. Unless the pride in the defense changes, nothing is going to change.''   After defeating Ohio State 79-74 in Champaign in January, Illinois didn't hang with Ohio State (23-5, 11-4). The Buckeyes bounced back from losing two of their last three games.   "Today, we were getting easy shots,'' said Ohio State guard William Buford, who scored 17 points. "We were able to knock them down.''   Leonard also bounced back from an emotional scene in Nebraska, where he was soobbing on the bench in the closing minutes of the 23-point blowout loss. He scored a game-high 21 points.   "It hit me like a ton of bricks,'' Leonard said. "Coach Weber cared about me personally, along with the rest of the coaching staff, ever since I was a recruit. Last year, I struggled a little bit. Coach Weber was the one who said, 'Meyers, you're going to USA Basketball. You're going to train hard and get ready.'   "Sometimes, I take some of the weight on my back, being one of the better players. It's tough sometimes. I'm 19. I've got a lot coming at me at one time that I've not been accustomed to.''   Illinois guard D.J. Richardson scored 12 points and had six rebounds.   Ohio State won for the 40th time in its last 41 home games by placing three in double figures, led by DeShaun Thomas' 19 points. "It's good to see the ball go in early,'' Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "It was delightful to see, trust me.''   NOTES: Guard Sam Maniscalco sank a 3-pointer for the second straight game after going 0-for-17 from the arc. . . Illinois is 3-4 against the top 25 this season. . .      John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.   Illinois report card Front court -- B- Meyers Leonard scored, but there wasn't enough defense and effort inside. Back court -- F Illinois was a step slow all night. Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson weren't the leaders needed by the team. Bench -- C Coach Bruce Weber passed around some of the minutes to get his freshmen some experience. Overall -- D The horrible start showed where this team is mentally. But let's say Ohio State played like the preseason conference favorite on its home court.