Illinois men’s basketball looks to continue Big Ten momentum against Nebraska

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Sidney Malone

Forward Coleman Hawkins walks onto the court to face Wisconsin on Saturday. The Illini respond after defeat from Northwestern on Jan. 4, and upcoming game against Wisconsin on Tuesday.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

The Illini made a statement last Saturday.

After losing out against the unranked Northwestern men’s basketball team, Illinois returned to Champaign to go to battle against No. 14 Wisconsin. The task of beating one of the highly ranked teams in the country after the misery suffered in Evanston seemed gargantuan, and yet the Illini got it done.

Illinois regrouped and showed its grit to pull off a 79-69 upset over Wisconsin, maintaining what is now a five-game winning streak over its neighbors to the north. After three straight conference losses, the Illini finally managed to add their first mark in the Big Ten win column for the 2022-23 season.

“I feel pretty good,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “I feel better, anyway, coming out of the Wisconsin game in terms of not just getting the win but more about how we went about it. We were diligent in our game plan and I thought it was the fewest mistakes scouting-wise.”

Illinois is now over the hump in regards to securing that first conference victory. Now, the team has a chance to build on this newfound momentum with a trip to Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers are having a fairly mixed season up to this point but have remained just above .500 with a 9-7 overall record, 2-3 in the Big Ten. Most recently, Nebraska defeated Minnesota in a tight 81-79 overtime win to claim its second victory in conference play.

“They are probably the epitome of what I call ‘bully ball,’” Underwood said. “They just get you to a spot with Walker and just back you in, back you in, back you in the front of the rim. They’ve been very, very efficient with that. Defensively, this team’s playing very hard. They’ve got great size, great length and they’re a team that definitely has an identity on the end of the court.”

The Illini are currently on a five-game win streak against the Cornhuskers and triumphed in last season’s matchup by an 81-71 result (with a significantly different-looking squad of players). However, this current Illinois team will be heading into Tuesday’s matchup still with a few question marks, given their mixed overall form the last few games.

The Illini had a much better shooting night against the Badgers, hitting 47.2% from the field and an impressive 52.6% from beyond the arc. Senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr. and junior forward Coleman Hawkins also had 20+ point games, with the latter scoring a career-high of six threes against Wisconsin.

The resurgence on both ends of the floor was certainly a positive sign and something Illinois will look to carry over into Tuesday night’s clash with Nebraska. The Illini will continue to play without freshman guard Skyy Clark, who has stepped away from basketball indefinitely for personal reasons, as well as sophomore guard Luke Goode, who is preparing to return to the court soon after suffering a foot injury.

Illinois tips off against Nebraska in Lincoln at 8 p.m. on Tuesday. The game will be broadcasted on Big Ten Network.

 

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