No. 5 Illinois was without star point guard Ayo Dosunmu on Thursday night, but the Illini had more than enough firepower to dispatch Nebraska in Champaign.
Big man Kofi Cockburn dominated the second half and a pair of freshman guards stepped up in Dosunmu’s absence as the Illini ran away with the game for an 86-70 win. Dosunmu was sidelined by a facial injury suffered Tuesday against Michigan State.
Freshman guard Adam Miller went off in the first half, Cockburn dominated the second and freshman point guard Andre Curbelo made plays all night in a physical, chippy, foul-filled game. The Illini shot 22-of-29 from the foul line, outscored Nebraska 46-32 in the paint, converted 12 offensive rebounds into 12 second-chance points and turned 17 Nebraska turnovers into 14 points on the other end.
After a strong defensive stretch following Nebraska’s return to play from the program pause, Nebraska has given up 86 points in back-to-back games.
“One things is we’re just giving them too many points off of turnovers and that’s where it starts,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I think Penn State had 25 on us the other night and they got 14 on us tonight. That’s just giving them free points when you can’t take care of the basketball. Offensive rebounds, we’re getting hurt on second-chance points. They outscore us 12 to four on second chance points. We’re not getting many offensive rebounds right now and we’re getting exposed in transition. That can’t happen.
“So we’ve got to get back … We didn’t do as good of a job as we needed to and that’s where they get comfortable, that’s where they get confident, and then you look at the end of the game and they’ve got 86 points. The urgency early, it’s got to improve.”
Nebraska shot 44.3% from the field including 5-of-21 from 3 and 11-of-16 from the free-throw line. After erupting for 41 points against Penn State on Tuesday, the Illini limited Teddy Allen to five points on 2-of-6 shooting and four turnovers.
“I thought a lot of it was we weren’t getting into our actions early in the game,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Teddy really got into the flow, that’s what got him going the other night. Then you break it off and you try to take a couple really tough shots when you don’t have a rhythm. He let it come to him the other night and that’s where he had that huge half, had 28 in the half and obviously 41 for the game. But we just never got it going.”
Hoiberg also said Allen’s wrist has been bothering him for some time, and it causes him considerable pain when his wrist gets jarred.
Trey McGowens led the Husker with 18 points, but it took him 17 shots and four free throws to get there. Shamiel Stevenson and Kobe Webster chipped in 12 points apiece off the bench.
Cockburn led all scorers with 24 points on 8-of-10 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line. Miller matched McGowens with 18 points. Curbelo came up just short of a triple-double with 10 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
“Kofi’s an unbelievably difficult match-up, especially when he’s knocking down free throws like he was tonight,” Hoiberg said. “Then Miller got it going. I thought we had a couple closeouts we didn’t quote have the urgency that we needed to make him put it on the floor … Then I thought Curbelo had an unbelievable game. He controlled it and almost ended up with a triple-double.”
The Huskers got off to a sluggish start offensively, falling behind 10-4 while shooting 2-of-9 from the field with five turnovers. Stevenson checked in and provided some life with a pair of layups, and soon after McGowens hit a 3 (the first of the game for either team) to make it a one-point game.
The Huskers continued to hang around by scrapping on defense and forcing the Illini into jump shots that weren’t falling. One of those jumpers finally did go down for Miller and it sparked a 12-5 run for Illinois. Miller scored 10 of those points and capped the run with a dunk that put the Illini up 30-21 with three minutes to go.
Illinois pushed the lead to 11 a couple times, but the Huskers got a bit of good fortune as McGowens’ pass intended for Yvan Ouedraogo got deflected out to the perimeter where Webster was waiting to knock down a 3 just before the buzzer.
Illinois took a 36-28 lead into the locker room after a first half that saw 20 fouls, five technical fouls and 22 turnovers. Both sides struggled to hit shots form the perimeter, combining to shoot 4-of-19 from 3, but Illinois shot 51.7% from the field overall and outscored the Huskers by 10 in the paint.
The Huskers managed to keep Cockburn in check with six points, two turnovers and two fouls in 11 minutes, but they let Miller get loose for 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Derrick Walker led the Huskers with seven points 3-of-4 shooting.
Dalano Banton opened the second half with a pull-up jumper from the free-throw line, but Illinois pushed the lead to 10 soon after on a 3 by Trent Frazier. The Huskers got it back to four with an assist from McGowens to Eduardo Andre and a bucket by McGowens, but Illinois answered with a 9-0 run to take its largest lead yet at 51-36 five minutes into the half.
McGowens tried to get the Husker back into it with back-to-back three-point plays to make it a single-digit game, but Illinois pushed it to 16 with a 9-2 stretch. Stevenson and Webster kept Nebraska in it for a bit, helping cut the lead to 11 five times, but the Huskers couldn’t get any closer and Illinois pulled away with an 8-1 run.
“We had a group out there I thought had some good movement going, got us back in the game,” Hoiberg said. “I think cut it to six right before the first media in the second half and then it just kind of went downhill from there. We did cut it back to 11 on a couple different occasions, but we just couldn’t climb back into that game and cut it to single digits to give ourselves a chance.”
Illinois’ lead peaked at 21 with just under four minutes to go. Trevor Lakes got some playing time late and knocked down a 3 then fed Andre for a three-point play to cut into the lead a bit and create the final score.
“It was tough, especially picking up some unfortunate fouls,” Walker said. “But every game is going to be tough. Calls might not go your way. With a team like Illinois, you just have to come prepared, follow the scout and you have to play harder than them, which we didn’t do tonight.”
Cockburn scored 18 points on 5-of-7 from the field and 8-of-9 from the foul line in the second half. As a team, the Illini went 18-for-22 at the charity stripe in the second half to make up for their 2-for-13 performance from 3.
Nebraska will return to Lincoln to host Minnesota on Saturday afternoon. The Golden Gophers won the meeting in Minneapolis 79-61 back on Feb. 8. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. on Big Ten Network.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.