It's funny to think that just a couple weeks ago, one of the biggest questions surrounding Nebraska basketball was what the heck was wrong with Shavon Shields?
After kicking off the season with a bang with 28 points in the Huskers' win over Florida Gulf Coast and earning national player of the week honors, the sophomore forward cooled down significantly and looked nothing like the player who emerged as a budding star at the end of last season. Well, that all changed in a big way on Wednesday night.
With a career-high 33 points and matching a school record by going a perfect 15-of-15 from the free throw line in NU's 67-58 win over Illinois, Shields essentially put the Huskers on his back during key stretches in the first and second halves to pave the way for a very important victory in terms of Nebraska's run at an NCAA Tournament berth.
"Shavon was remarkable tonight," head coach Tim Miles said after the game. "Early he started out slow and he got beat on a couple of defensive errors. He came (to the bench) and he looked me square in the eye and said, 'Coach, I'm ready. It won't happen again.' Well, he was ready. He was right. He was just on the attack… He got four free throws early, so you see the ball go through the hoop early and you feel good about that. He's been shooting and practicing really well. He took a lot of contact and finished at the rim."
Shields, who was elected by his teammates as one of three captains this season, was his usual humble self when asked to talk about his breakout performance. But his numbers warranted far more praise than he was willing to give himself. On two separate occasions, the Olathe, Kan., native stepped up when the Huskers' offense was struggling and went out and created points on his own.
After falling down by their biggest deficit of the night at 12-4 early in the first half, Shields scored 10 straight points to tie the game back up. In the second half, he then scored 10 of 12 points to keep NU on top and eventually take the lead for good. He even was sidelined for a brief moment after banging knees with an Illinois player and re-aggravating a sore knee that had bothered him during his cold streak earlier in the year.
"Just being aggressive," Shields said about his big game. "I really fed off my teammates… Besides a few mistakes as a unit, we kind of came together and got it going. After that when our defense got going, our offense kind of fed off of that."
Ending the night shooting 8-of-12 (66.6 percent) from the field and hitting all 15 of his free throws - which tied Jack Moore's school record from 1982 for the most free throws in a game without a miss - Shields posted easily the most efficient offensive performance by a Husker this season. During his post-game interview, Shields was asked if he'd ever had a shooting night like that in his career.
"Yes," he said with a smile. "In the exhibition (against Nebraska-Kearney) I was 7-for-7."