Senior Dylan Talley and junior Ray Gallegos did all they could to help lead Nebraska to a big upset over Illinois on Saturday, but it wasn't enough to hold off the Fighting Illini down the stretch in a 72-65 loss.
Talley and Gallegos combined for 43 of the Huskers' 65 points, but they couldn't outdo an all-around impressive performance by Illinois, which had five players score in double digits in the game.
After leading by two with six minutes remaining, Nebraska (13-16 overall, 4-12 Big Ten Conference) ended up getting outscored 17-8 the rest of the way, including eight points in the final four minutes by guard Tracy Abrams. The Huskers made just one field goal in the final three minutes of the game.
"It was disappointing," head coach Tim Miles said during his post-game radio show on the Husker Sports Network. "We're not interested in coming close. We didn't guard as well as we needed to down the stretch. I thought they drove the ball on us, especially Abrams; I thought he was really vital down the stretch."
Nebraska played pretty well in all aspects in the first half, but the problem was Illinois (21-9, 8-8) was just as good. Despite a hot shooting start for the Huskers that saw them hit 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc, the Fighting Illini one-upped them with five 3-pointers.
In a first half that featured nine lead changes and no advantage of more than seven points, Abrams knocked down a desperation 3-pointer with 3.1 seconds left to give Illinios the last laugh going into halftime with a 35-32 advantage.
Talley and Gallegos both led NU with 11 points in the first half on a combined 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range, including three treys by Gallegos on six attempts. Talley ended the night with 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting, while Gallegos had a game-high 23 points with six 3-pointers.
The Huskers didn't let the momentum Illinois gained at the end of the first half carry over much longer in the second half, though, as they quickly tied the game back up at 40-40 on a 3-pointer by Talley five minutes in.
Talley ended up scoring seven straight points from there and lifted Nebraska to its first lead of the second half on a steal and lay-up to make it 44-42 with 12:35 remaining. A 3 by Gallegos and another basket by Talley shortly after capped a 9-3 run and gave the Huskers their biggest lead of the night a 49-45 with just over 11 minutes to go.
"I thought we moved the ball well. We were on the attack," Miles said. "It started right away. Dylan Talley gets in the paint right away and makes a nice play, and I thought Dylan, for a long part of the night, was really good for us, and Ray shot the 3. When Ray shoots the 3 well, that's really good for us. Those two really I thought were critical. As you can see, they had 43 of our 65 points. That was big for us."
Illinois quickly tied it up, but a basket by freshman Shavon Shields put NU back on top 57-55 with 6:08 to play. That would be Nebraska's final lead of the day, however. Another 3 by Gallegos cut it 64-62 with three minutes left, but the Huskers wouldn't make another basket until Shields hit a 3 with 10 seconds to go and the game already in hand.
Shields finished with nine points and five rebounds, while Abrams led the Illini with 16 points off the bench. The Huskers have now lost six of the last eight games, but with two more regular season games remaining on the schedule, Miles said the team still had a lot to play for.
Wednesday night's home finale against Minnesota, for one, will not only be Nebraska's Senior Night for Talley, Brandon Ubel and Andre Almeida, it will also be the final home game played at the Bob Devaney Sports Center before the team moves to Pinnacle Bank Arena next season.
"Hopefully we can sell it out and send (the Devaney) out the right way," Miles said. "I hope the fans come out and just enjoy the moment and come out and support these guys. These three seniors have been great for us, and they're fighting their butts off to try and send Devaney out a winner."