Trailing by two with 12 minutes to play, Illinois held Nebraska to six points the rest of the way to claim a 72-56 Big Ten victory on Tuesday night in Champaign, Ill.
Matthew Mayer paced four Illini players in double figures with 16 points. Terrence Shannon Jr. added 13 points and five assists, Jayden Epps scored 12 points and Courtney Hawkins contributed 10 points and eight rebounds as Illinois (16-6, 7-4 Big Ten) moved into third place in the conference.
Sam Griesel led all scorers with 21 points for Nebraska (10-13, 3-9), which led 50-48 with 12 minutes to go despite playing without two starters. Keisei Tominaga scored 11 off the bench while Derrick Walker, the Huskers’ leading scorer and rebounder, had eight points and six rebounds before fouling out with 3:33 left.
Griesel scored 15 of Nebraska’s first 17 points as the Huskers forged a 19-19 tie, but Illinois responded with a 9-1 run to claim a 28-20 lead with five minutes left in the half. Instead of pulling away, Illinois watched Nebraska climb within 38-37 at the break as C.J. Wilcher and Tominaga cashed 3-pointers in the final 1:11.
Illinois coach Brad Underwood was so irked by his team’s performance, he returned to the court with more than seven minutes left on the intermission clock and sat on the bench alone.
“We were really, really flat,” Underwood said. “Really emotionless. If we didn’t play with any more energy or focus than that, we didn’t deserve to win. So they’ve got to figure out some of that stuff on their own.”
Underwood’s gambit appeared to affect the Huskers more than the Illini as Nebraska came up empty on its first seven second-half possessions — including five turnovers. That enabled Illinois to build a 48-41 lead, but then the Illini soon turned it over on four out of five possessions.
Nebraska capitalized with three 3-pointers in a 47-second stretch — two by Tominaga and the other by Wilcher — to regain a 50-48 edge with 12 minutes to go.
Underwood spent a timeout to halt the momentum, and Illinois hit Nebraska with an 8-0 run to reclaim the lead for good. Shannon started the spree with a driving reverse layup, then fed Sencire Harris for a dunk on a two-on-one break.
After two Hawkins free throws, Shannon hit Harris for a fastbreak layup that forced a Nebraska timeout with 7:57 left and Illinois up 56-50.
–Field Level Media