Nebraska stood toe-to-toe with No. 25 Illinois, but the Fighting Illini used a 12-2 run in the final four minutes to stave off the Huskers, 81-71 at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday night.
In a tightly contest battle, neither team led by more than five until the final stretch after Nebraska pulled even at 65-all on a pair of Bryce McGowens’ free throws with 3:57 left. Coleman Hawkins’ offensive putback started a decisive 7-0 run, as the Illini took a 72-65 lead on a 3-pointer from Da’Monte Williams with 2:20 left. NU pulled to within five at 72-67 on a pair of Alonzo Verge Jr. free throws, but Illinois ran off five straight, including a 3-pointer from Trent Frazier, who led all scorers with 29 points.
Frazier’s 29 led three Illini (12-5, 5-0) in double figures, while Kofi Cockburn (16) and Jacob Grandison (12) also finished in double figures as Illinois won for the 10th time in the last 11 contests.
McGowens paced three Huskers (6-11, 0-6) with 19 points and six rebounds. Alonzo Verge Jr. and Derrick Walker each added 14 points. Walker added seven rebounds while Verge tallied nine assists. The Huskers shot 45.8 percent from the field (25-59) and was 6-for-12 from the three-point range (50 percent) to fall to 6-11 on the season.
Nebraska started the first half off strong going on a 13-2 run in the first four minutes. Four threes, including a pair from Keisei Tominaga and one each from Lat Mayen and McGowens, put the Huskers up 16-4. Illinois cut the lead to 19-17 after a 7-0 run, and continued to stay hot throughout the middle of the first half. The Illini took a 23-21 lead with 8:53 to go in the first. A three-pointer by Plummer put Illinois up 28-21, their largest lead of the half.
Trailing 31-23, the Huskers closed the half on an 11-0 spurt, holding the Illini without a field goal for nearly five minutes and took a 34-31 lead on a pair of free throws from Verge with 0.2 seconds left.
Nebraska stretched the lead to 36-31 on a Walker putback, but Illinois answered pulling to within 40-38 after a Frazier basket before taking a 43-42 lead on a Granderson basket with 14:49 left. Neither team could seize momentum as the largest lead until the under four TO was four points. Nebraska trailed 65-61 with 4:27 left, but a basket from Walker and two McGowens free throws tied it up with 3:57 left.
The Huskers will continue conference play on Friday, Jan. 14 as they travel to No. 7 Purdue. Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m.