Illinois men’s basketball outlasts Nebraska at home


Jacob Slabosz

Freshman guard Sencire Harris dunks during the second half against Nebraska on Tuesday. The dunk, made with help from Terrence Shannon Jr., helped the Illini to pull ahead, making the score 52-50.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

The Illini keep finding ways to win. After an 0-3 conference start, the team is now on a 7-1 conference run.

Illinois improved to 11-2 at State Farm Center this season after outlasting Nebraska 72-56 on Tuesday. With the win, Illinois now has a conference record of 7-4 going into the back half of the season.

Freshman guard Jayden Epps kept his starting spot for the third game in a row against the Cornhuskers, joined by senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr., fifth-year forward Matthew Mayer, junior forward Coleman Hawkins and redshirt sophomore forward Dain Dainja. After switching out freshman guard Sencire Harris for Epps against Ohio State, head coach Brad Underwood hasn’t looked back.

Another poor shooting display plagued both teams early. Illinois shot 1-8 from the field before the first timeout at 16:11. Cornhusker sharpshooters were cold out of the gates as well, though going 0-4 from beyond the arc during the same timeframe. After Cornhusker guard Sam Griesel’s second time at the line in the first half, Nebraska led 7-3.

Freshman forward Ty Rodgers’ introduction at the 14-minute mark sparked the change Illinois needed after shooting just under 25% from the field in the first five minutes. Rodgers ended the half with four rebounds and two points in seven minutes on the floor, while also drawing one of Cornhusker forward Derrick Walker’s two first half fouls. His layup tied the game up at 12 with 11:02 remaining in the half.

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Rodgers helped end Illinois’ dry spell and propel them to their first lead in eight minutes, but Griesel’s prolific first half kept Nebraska close. The Cornhusker guard ended the half with 15 points, with all coming in the first 12 minutes.

Driving to the rim proved to be Illinois’ most reliable way of scoring. 16 of the team’s first half points came in the paint (eight more from the line), with eight players contributing to that statline.

As the first half approached a close, Mayer scored his second three of the night and reached a team-high 11 first half points. Illinois ended on top in the first half, up 38-37. On 13-38 shooting from the field, Illinois’ first half display was nothing short of poor.

After the break, the Illinois defense began to flex its muscles. In just three minutes played, the Illini forced five turnovers and capitalized in scoring on three of those opportunities. However, during this stint of defensive intensity, Shannon drew his third foul of the night and had to leave the game briefly. Illinois led 46-39 after Mayer shot three from the line with 16:24 left to play.

Sophomore guard RJ Melendez drew two charges in quick succession, but the Illinois offense began to falter shortly afterwards, turning the ball over three times in quick succession and giving Nebraska a 9-0 run over 47 seconds. With 11:57 on the clock, Nebraska regained the lead on a three from Keise Tominaga, 50-48.

A poor offensive start to the half was undone by a few moments of magic from Shannon and Harris, who combined for a fast break dunk to regain the lead. Off of Shannon’s third steal of the night, the pair combined again for a Harris layup to make it 56-50 with 7:57 remaining.

The Illini struggled all game to break free from the Cornhuskers, until Rodgers and Harris’ cameos paved the way to a multiple possession lead. Rodgers’ third offensive rebound of the half sent Walker to the bench after he fouled Rodgers coming down, while Harris’ six points was done with efficiency, shooting 3-3.

After a turbulent start to the second half which saw the teams tied with 10 minutes left to play, the Illini rode out their lead to a 72-56 victory — their third in a row. Illinois had four scorers on 10+ points, with Mayer, Shannon, Hawkins and Epps all making a huge scoring impact.

Next up for Illinois is an away match at Iowa, where Underwood and his team will look for their fourth straight win.



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