Champaign, Ill. – A shorthanded Nebraska team rallied from a double-digit deficit to force a tie game early in the second half, but Illinois responded with an 11-1 run to regain control and defeat the Huskers 71-59 on Monday night at the State Farm Center.
Nebraska (7-20, 2-14 Big Ten Conference) trailed by six points at halftime and faced the same deficit three minutes into the second half when senior guard Haanif Cheatam made a free throw and junior guard Thorir Thornbjarnarson scored in the paint.
Illinois responded with a layup, but Thornbjarnarson made a 3-pointer and junior guard Jervay Green scored in transition on an assist from Cheatham to force a 46-46 tie with 15:12 remaining.
Illinois (18-9, 10-6) outscored the Huskers by 10 points over the next four minutes to assume control. The Illini went on to lead by as many as 14, while Nebraska drew within no closer than eight.
Nebraska played without sophomore point guard Cam Mack, who remained in Lincoln because of an illness. Mack entered Monday one of only five players in power conferences to average at least 12 points, six assists, four rebounds and one steal per game.
Without him, the Huskers counted on Cheatham, who scored 14 points to pace four Nebraska players in double-figure scoring. Dachon Burke Jr. finished with 13 points, Thornbjarnarson scored 11 and freshman center Yvan Ouedraogo had 11 points to go with 10 points for his fifth double-double this season. Ouedraogo has had two straight double-double games, becoming the fourth Husker to accomplish that feat this season.
Nebraska shot 42 percent from the field overall while holding Illinois to 39-percent shooting, including just 5-of-19 on 3-pointers. But Illinois held a 42-34 advantage on points in the paint and out-rebounded the Huskers 48-35, including 19 offensive rebounds that resulted in 14 second-chance points. Ayo Dosunmo scored 18 points to pace the Illini, while Kofi Cockburn added 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Nebraska trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half and was behind 28-18 with 5:13 remaining before halftime but used a 9-0 run to pull within one point. Burke scored the first five points in the spurt, beginning with a three-point play when he converted a short jumper, was fouled and made a free throw.
Cheatham then scored four straight points in transition – two on a lay-up, two on free throws after being fouled on a layup attempt – to pull the Huskers within 28-27.
Cockburn ended the run for the Illini with a basket down low, but Ouedraogo scored in the paint, and after Cockburn made one of two free throws, Burke tied the game, 31-31 with 1:42 to play in the first half, on a layup.
Illinois, though, closed the half with two 3-pointers by Trent Frazier in the final 25 seconds, the last coming when the guard launched a prayer from 75 feet that left his hands barely before the halftime buzzer. A long replay confirmed Frazier’s shot was good, and Illinois led 37-31 at halftime, and never trailed thereafter.
Nebraska returns home Thursday night to face Ohio State at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The game is set for 8 PM (CT) and will be carried on ESPN2.