Nebraska needed to continue winning to close out the season and instead fell on its face against Illinois. The Huskers (20-9, 11-5) dropped a 72-66 gut-punch game to Illinois (13-15, 3-12 Big Ten) and will probably be feeling a little sick to their stomachs after.
Here are three takeaways
When Nebraska looks back at this game, it’s going to feel like a huge, gigantic miss. Nebraska is going to see a missed win that was there for the taking; Illinois shot 27 percent in the second half and left the door wide open for the Huskers with plenty of questionable shot choices down the stretch. It is going to see a slew of missed free throws, eight in total on 18 attempts. It’s going to see too many missed shots at the basket.
The Huskers only hit one shot from the field over the final 6:03 of the game and they missed 14 of their final 18 shot attempts.
Guard James Palmer Jr. was off too and maybe that has as much to do with it as anything. He only had 13 points — his lowest output since a 5-point showing against Penn State on Jan. 12 — and took 13 shots to get there. Isaiah Roby had 13 points on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting at the halftime break and then just disappeared. He got just two shots in the final 20 minutes of the game and only scored a point.
Was Nebraska looking ahead to a Tuesday night matchup with Indiana? Was it overlooking the last-place team in the Big Ten? Perhaps. The tournament hopes will take a major hit to the gut for that.
There are a couple losses already on the schedule that will no doubt continue to sting, but this one will feel like just a bad miss all around.
Nebraska Needs More from Glynn
The Huskers have to win their final two to keep the tournament hopes alive, and then do something in the conference tournament. But even if they do, even if they get to the big dance, they’ll be hard-pressed to make any kind of noise if they don’t get more from guard Glynn Watson Jr.
Perhaps Watson’s worst game of the season came at the worst time. And his worst plays of the game came, again, at the worst possible times.
With 1:21 left in the game and Illinois up three, Illini guard Mark Smith decided to pull up for a three-ball instead of feeding his big man, Leron Black, who had a game-high and career-high 28 points. Black was being guarded by Roby in the post, with four fouls, and had scored the last six Illinois points.
Smith missed, Watson got the ball and was off to the races. In transition, with Isaac Copeland floating unguarded to the corner right next to him, Watson pulled up for 3 eight seconds into the shot clock. He was open, but he was 1-for-8 from the field and 1-for-4 from deep at that point. He short-stroked the shot and missed.
A few plays later, Watson inadvertently knocked a loose ball out of bounds while going for a rebound. Illinois made its free throws late to seal the deal.
That’s now 16 straight games Watson has shot under 50 percent from the field. During that stretch, he’s only topped 40 percent twice. Nebraska has been able to survive the offensive struggles in part because of Palmer’s play. But Palmer didn’t have it Sunday and the effect of an ineffective Watson was fully felt.
The Huskers need more.
Road Woes Continue
I feel like I’ve said this before and at the risk of getting too repetitive with these, I’ll point it out again, because this has been a weird trend. Thank goodness the road games are over. From an efficiency standpoint on offense, the Huskers in true road games this season have not looked great.
They’ve taken more threes (19.2 per at home, 22.5 per on the road) at a lower efficiency (35.8 percent at home, 34.3 percent on the road), they’ve scored fewer points (77.7 down to 66.7) at a lower efficiency (46.7 percent down to 38.8) and they’ve just generally looked discombobulated at times.
Does part of that have to do with playing in tougher environments? Yes. Do the home numbers get a bump from playing against teams like UTSA and North Dakota? You bet. But still, woof.
And to be fair, the Huskers offense wasn’t as bad as it has been against Illinois, they finished above a point per possession while shooting 45 percent from the field. But that first half was basically the Huskers' road games this season in a nutshell.
Nebraska shot 6-of-16 on 3-pointers and 7-of-10 on all other shots.
There are two games left — the Huskers need them both — and they’re both at home. First up is Indiana on Tuesday at 8 p.m., then it’s Penn State next Sunday.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.