basketball Edit

Nebraska gets overwhelmed in 86-70 loss at No. 5 Illinois

When Nebraska and Illinois met for the first time this season two weeks ago in Lincoln, the Huskers came one shot away from pulling off a stunning upset before falling in overtime.

Things went much differently in Thursday night’s rematch in Champaign, Ill.

Even without national player of the year candidate Ayo Dosunmu (facial injury), the Fighting Illini took control midway through the first half and never looked back en route to a convincing 86-70 victory over the Huskers.

Kofi Cockburn dominated NU in the paint with a game-high 24 points and seven rebounds, while freshman Adam Miller had one of his best collegiate performances with 18 points.

While Nebraska shot 44.3 percent from the field and got 18 points from Trey McGowens, it couldn’t overcome 25 fouls and 17 turnovers compared to 25 made field goals.

Nebraska fell to 5-17 overall 1-14 in Big Ten Conference play, while Illinois improved to 16-6, 12-4, to remain in the thick of contention for a regular-season league title and a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Trey McGowens' 18 points weren't nearly enough for Nebraska to keep up with No. 5 Illinois on Thursday night.
Trey McGowens' 18 points weren't nearly enough for Nebraska to keep up with No. 5 Illinois on Thursday night. (USA Today)

The first 20 minutes were a sloppy, whistled-filled mess, as the teams combined for a total of 22 turnovers, 20 fouls, and five technicals in that beauty of a first half.

Nebraska never led in the first half, but it got within two points on an And-1 by Derrick Walker that made it 23-21 with 5:17 remaining. Illinois responded with an 11-2 run to go up by as many as 11, but a 3-pointer by Kobe Webster cut the deficit to 36-28 at halftime.

Miller scored 16 of his Big Ten-high 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting in the first half, which was already his most points since Jan. 16, and only the sixth time in 23 games he’s scored in double figures.

The second half belonged to Cockburn, as he put up 18 of his 24 points after halftime while going 8-of-9 at the free-throw line in the second half.

The Huskers got back within single digits on back-to-back And-1’s by Trey McGowens that made it 51-42 with 14:20 remaining, but that was as close as they would get the rest of the night.

Illinois answered with a 9-2 run to push its lead back up to 16, and the deficit would grow to as much as 83-62 before all was said and done.

Shamiel Stevenson and Kobe Webster both had 12 points off the bench, while Derrick Walker added seven points and a team-high five rebounds while playing much of his 18 minutes in foul trouble.

Freshman Andre Curbelo nearly recorded Illinois’ third triple-double of the season (Dosunmu has two) with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists.

Nebraska will return home on Saturday to host Minnesota for a 6 p.m. CT tip on Big Ten Network.

3-POINT PLAY

1. No Ayo, no problem

Usually when a team is without arguably the best overall player in the country, it’s going to have a noticeable impact.

To Illinois’ credit, it didn’t seem to skip a beat with the likely All-American Dosunmu ruled out with a broken nose he suffered last time out vs. Michigan State.

Senior walk-on Zach Griffith, who began as a team manager for IU, got the start in Dosunmu’s place, but Miller carried the load for the Illini in the first half. His 18 points were his most since getting 28 in his IU debut vs. North Carolina A&T.

In the second half, it was all Cockburn. Not only was the massive sophomore virtually unstoppable around the basket, but he also drew 13 fouls in the game and converted eight of his nine opportunities at the free-throw line.

2. Teddy was strangely absent

After putting together one of the best individual performances in program history 48 hours earlier against Penn State, Teddy Allen was hardly even a factor at Illinois.

The junior guard set multiple school records with 41 points on 16-of-25 shooting to go along with eight rebounds and six assists.

On Thursday, Allen was held to just five points while making two of only six shot attempts. He also committed four turnovers and was hit with a double-technical foul early in the first half.

He didn’t make his first field goal until six minutes left in the first half and played just 20 minutes on the night despite only having two fouls.

Head coach Fred Hoiberg said Allen had been dealing with an injury to his right shooting wrist “for a while now,” and it appeared Allen was bothered by it late in the loss to Penn State.

It’s unclear how much that injury impacted him against the Illini, but Nebraska needs Allen to have a more prominent role in the offense.

3. Nebraska’s defense has fizzled out

One of the main reasons Nebraska had been so competitive after returning from a month-long COVID-19 layup was the effort it was putting forth on defense.

Over the last few games, that energy and intensity have vanished.

Fatigue from playing 10 games in 20 days is obviously a factor, and that has been seen most in the lack of winning plays NU has made on that end of the floor lately.

Illinois shot just 4-of-23 from 3-point range and 11 of its 15 turnovers came on unforced errors. Yet it still managed to score 86 and have a 16-2 edge in fastbreak points.

It certainly hasn’t helped that NU can’t stop turning the ball over, either. After giving it away 18 times (with 14 steals) to Penn State, Nebraska committed 17 turnovers that led to 14 Illini points.

THEY SAID IT

"It wasn't there tonight. Our edge, the juice you have to have to play against a team like this, coming off a loss, we knew they were going to be foaming at the mouth and we just didn't match their energy."
— Head coach Fred Hoiberg