Isaac Copeland scored 17 points to pace three Huskers in double figures, but Nebraska could not overcome Illinois’ hot-shooting first half and Leron Black’s career day, as the Huskers fell 72-66 on Sunday at the State Farm Center, putting a stop to a six-game winning streak.
Illinois closed the game on a 14-5 run over the final six minutes, as the Huskers drop to 20-9 on the season and 11-5 in the Big Ten Conference. The Huskers remain in fourth place in the league, tied with Michigan after the Wolverines defeated Ohio State earlier Sunday. Nebraska holds the tiebreaker over Michigan to determine seeding in the conference tournament, as the Huskers defeated the Wolverines in January. Illinois improves to 13-15 overall and 3-12 in the Big Ten.
Isaiah Roby recorded his third-consecutive double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while James Palmer Jr. had 13 tallies, as he has scored in double-figures in 27 of Nebraska’s 29 games this season.
Trailing 43-36 at halftime after allowing Illinois 62 percent shooting in the first half, Nebraska turned to a 2-3 zone defense and started the second half on a 16-4 run to grab a 52-47 lead with 14 minutes to play. Out of the break, an 8-2 run capped by a Palmer three brought NU to within one at 45-44, as Illinois missed its first five shots from the field. An Anton Gill three tied the game up at 47 a piece, before Copeland gave NU its first lead since the opening minutes of the game, as he hit a triple to put the Huskers up 50-47.
Illinois would not go away, as a 6-0 run capped by a Mark Smith three gave the lead back to Illinois, before a Trent Frazier triple put Illinois on top 56-54. The two teams traded baskets down the stretch, with neither team leading by more than three points over the final 10 minutes until Frazier’s free throw with 25.4 seconds left. The second half featured six ties and eight lead changes.
Nebraska went nearly six minutes without a field goal until Palmer’s basket brought Nebraska to within two at 68-66 with 20 seconds left, but Frazier and Smith iced the game for the Illini with free throws in the final seconds.
Nebraska found itself facing an early deficit as Illinois went on an 11-0 run before the first media timeout. After a Copeland 3-pointer, Nebraska missed its next five shots, while Illinois hit five straight after missing its first two to open the game. Black scored seven consecutive points to put the Illini ahead 11-3, before a Roby basket ended the run.
Roby scored the next five NU points, while four-consecutive points from Palmer brought the Huskers to within two at 16-14. Evan Taylor tallied five straight for NU, but Black scored 10 of Illinois’ next 12 points to give the Illini a 28-22 lead, before a Kipper Nichols triple forced a Nebraska timeout at 31-22 with 7:33 left in the half.
Illinois led by as many as 11 at 33-22 just after the seven-minute mark, before NU went on a 9-2 run capped by Roby’s third 3-pointer of the half to bring the Huskers within four at 35-31 with under three minutes to play. The Illini kept applying the pressure on the offensive end, however, and led by 10 at 43-33 before Gill’s first basket of the game, a 3-pointer from the corner, cut the lead to 43-36 at halftime. The Illini shot a blistering 62 percent from the field and made 7 of 9 from downtown in the half, as Black led the way with 17 points, while Nichols had 12. Roby paced Nebraska in the opening stanza with 13 points, five boards and three blocks, while Copeland had nine points at the break.
For the game, Black led Illinois with a career-high 28 points, while Frazier and Nichols both added 12, though Nichols did not score in the second half. Illinois held a 38-29 advantage on the boards, and shot 43.5 percent from the field for the game, but the Huskers did limit the Illini to just 27 percent in the second half.
Nebraska will return to Lincoln for the first of a two-game regular-season-ending homestand on Tuesday, as the Huskers welcome surging Indiana to Pinnacle Bank Arena.