Coming off a big win over Purdue last weekend, Illinois looked primed to continue to build momentum with middling Nebraska coming to Champaign on Saturday.
But the Illini refused to stop shooting 3-pointers, and a Land of Lincoln native sparked the Huskers, adding insult to injury in the Illini's 78-67 loss.
Illinois took 37 shots from 3-point range Saturday, making only 11 of them in a generally cold-shooting day in which the Illini went just 39 percent from the field. But all but 22 of their shots on the whole game came from behind the arc, and after going just 6-for-20 from 3 in the first half, the hole was too big for them to climb out of.
Meanwhile, Glynn Watson Jr. — a Bellwood native and the younger brother of former Illinois star Demetri McCamey — scored 17 points for Nebraska, one of four Huskers in double figures as they took advantage of the Illinois defense and shot 53.6 percent from the field, getting to the basket with ease for 34 points in the paint.
The teams exchanged modest leads early, and Illinois had some success from 3-point range in the game's opening minutes. Jaylon Tate — hitting his first triple of the season — Kendrick Nunn and Michael Finke hit consecutive 3-pointers to give the Illini a four-point lead ahead of the game's first media timeout. But a deep shooting freeze set in from there, Illinois missing its next four 3-point attempts and scoring just eight points over the next approximately eight minutes. A Nunn jumper cut Nebraska's small lead to just three with a little more than six minutes until halftime, but the Illini then went without a basket for the next four minutes while the Huskers went on a 9-0 spurt to build a double-digit edge, whittled down to nine at the half.
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After missing 14 3-pointers in the first half, the Illini did adjust some but still launched 17 over the final 20 minutes. Illinois got the margin down to four early in the period, but Nebraska streaked out on a 10-0 run helped by six points from Andrew White, who had a monster second half for the Huskers. The Illini punched right back with nine straight, but after White and Jalen Coleman-Lands traded 3-pointers, Nebraska scored seven straight to make it a 14-point game once more with under eight minutes to go. The Illini's continued chipping couldn't get the lead smaller than six over the game's final minutes. The Huskers answered every Illini bucket with a big shot of their own, and even though Illinois did get defensive stops, it kept casting up missed 3s and even missed five late free throws. Malcolm Hill, at one point, missed four straight from the charity stripe.
Hill finished with a team-high 17 points, also handing out seven assists. Nunn ended with 15 points, and Finke and Coleman-Lands each had 11.
White scored 21 points, 15 of those coming in the second half, and grabbed 13 rebounds. Watson's 17 points matched a season high for the freshman out of St. Joseph's. Tai Webster scored 16 points, and Shavon Shields had 14. Another Chicago native, Ed Morrow Jr., had six points and six rebounds.
The loss dropped the Illini to 9-9 overall and 1-4 in Big Ten play. Next up is a Tuesday trip to take on Indiana.
With the win, their third straight, the Huskers improved to 11-8 on the season and 3-3 in league play. They'll next travel to face Michigan State on Wednesday.