The Nebraska men’s basketball team got another 20-point performance from James Palmer Jr. and career efforts from Tanner Borchardt and Thomas Allen, but it was not enough in a 71-64 loss at Illinois Saturday afternoon.
Borchardt set career highs with 12 points and 18 rebounds, scoring in double figures for the first time in his career and pulling down double-digit rebounds for the second time in his career. While posting his first career double-double, Borchardt’s 18 rebounds tied for the most rebounds by a Husker in more than a decade. Palmer nearly had a double-double of his own, scoring a game-high 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds. While Palmer reached the 20-point plateau for the 11th time this season, Allen had 11 points, his highest total in a Big Ten Conference game and the sophomore scored in double figures in back-to-back conference games for the first time in his career.
Behind Borchardt’s big day, Nebraska grabbed 50 rebounds and was plus-14 on the glass, both of which were its best efforts in a Big Ten game this year and second-highest totals of the season. The Huskers also benefited from an Illinois team that hit just 9-of-23 free throws, but the Illini shot 48.2 percent from the field and hit 8-of-20 3-pointers, while Nebraska shot just 35.7 percent and was 3-of-23 from beyond the arc.
With the loss, Nebraska fell to 13-9 overall and 3-8 in Big Ten play. Illinois was led by Kipper Nichols, who tied his season high with 18 points after being held scoreless in the previous five games. The Illini, which won for the third time in six games, improved to 7-15 on the season and moved to 3-8 in conference action.
Nebraska led by as many as five in the first half, but the Huskers struggled over the final 12 minutes of the period, making only three field goals and scoring just 11 points. Illinois took advantage, outscoring Nebraska by 14 during the final 12 minutes to take a 38-29 lead into the locker room. NU shot just 32.3 percent from the line in the first half, and the Huskers were 3-of-12 from beyond the arc and just 6-of-13 at the free-throw line.
Illinois scored the first seven points of the game to force a quick Husker timeout, but Palmer, who scored 14 first-half points, hit back-to-back 3-pointers after the timeout to cap a 10-0 run that gave Nebraska a three-point lead. The Huskers stretched the lead to five at 18-13 on a dunk from Amir Harris with at the 12:10 mark, but Nebraska missed 10 of its final 13 shots of the half.
Following Harris’ dunk, Nebraska went scoreless for nearly four minutes, during which time Illinois went on a 10-0 run to turn a two-point deficit into a five-point lead. Nichols, who had not scored in his last five games, scored seven straight points during the run. Illinois led 27-23 with five minutes to play in the half, but a 9-2 run stretched the lead to 11 with 2:59 remaining. Nebraska scored four of the final six points of the period to pull within nine at the break.
The offensive struggles continued to start the second half, as Nebraska did not score for the first three minutes of the period and didn’t hit its first field goal until more than four minutes into the half. Illinois meanwhile made four of its first six shots in the second half and led 46-33 at the first media timeout of the period.
After the slow start, Nebraska made 6-of-8 shots during one stretch – including three baskets from Allen – to pull within eight at the 12-minute mark. Back-to-back baskets from Glynn Watson Jr. trimmed the lead to seven at 54-47 with 10 minutes to play, but Nebraska was held scoreless for the next five minutes, leading to a 6-0 run that pushed the Illinois lead back to double digits at 60-47 with less than six minutes to play.
Nebraska was able to get the lead back down to nine two minutes later, before Illinois stretched the lead back to 14. The Huskers would not go away however, as Borchardt scored four points and Palmer added three during a 7-0 run that pulled Nebraska to within seven at 67-60 with 1:26 left. But that was as close as Nebraska missed seven of its final eight shots.
Nebraska returns to action on Wednesday, when the Huskers host No. 21 Maryland at Pinnacle Bank Arena.