The Huskers have a big game on Sunday evening with the race to stay out of the play-in round of the Big Ten Tournament heating up. Nebraska (12-15, 6-9) hosts Illinois (16-12, 6-9) at Pinnacle Bank Arena at 6:30 p.m.
The Huskers are looking to bounce back after a rough trip to East Lansing where Michigan State used a big run late in the first half to pull away and defeat Nebraska 88-72.
“You play so many games, it’s hard to get your best every night,” Coach Tim Miles said. “I don’t know if it’s a bad matchup but their pace really got us. I don’t think I did a good job … as you look at things, outside of that one run where they did everything right and we did everything wrong and then some, they weren’t away from us. But that’s the difference between a good team and not a good team, that one big run.”
The Illini are led by one of the top scorers in the conference in 6-foot-6 senior wing Malcolm Hill.
“I think he’s one of the best guys in the country,” Miles said. “He can finish at the rim, he can make 3s, he can run the offense. He came as a four-man who didn’t hit outside shots and only handled the ball with one hand and now he’s much more of a complete player and he’s one of the few guys in the country that’s great in the mid-range game. He’s like a Shavon Shields in the mid-range.”
As for slowing down Hill, Miles cracked a joke.
“Influenza A is going around … Honestly I think that a variety of guys have to stop him,” Miles said. “I think you have to use size and quickness, multiple positions. Your team defense has to be good.”
Illinois has swept both Iowa and Northwestern and also beaten Michigan and Ohio State, but they also got swept by Penn State. After watching the tape, Miles said their defense has been the key for the Illini.
“Their defense is much-improved I think in their wins, especially lately,” Miles said. “Just their activity, their hands, they turn teams over, their screen-and-roll defense is really solid, and I’ve been really impressed with their ability to steal the ball, turn you over and really make it havoc.”
Maverick Morgan, a 6-foot-10, 250-pound senior center, is the only other player averaging double figures in scoring at 10 per game while four others average between 7.2 and 8.3 points.
Sunday is also part of Nebraska’s Legends Weekend as 75 former players are in Lincoln and will be recognized at halftime.
“It’s great having the legends back,” Miles said. “Last night we were out and just talking to the ’86-87 team. Seeing those guys together was pretty cool. Gary Bargen was here. Seeing that camaraderie makes you nostalgic. Even as a scrub college player you start to miss your own guys too.”
On the injury front, Miles said that everyone practiced and that there are “No real issues.” That includes freshman forward Isaiah Roby, who returned against Michigan State after missing the previous game with an ankle sprain.
The game will be on BTN with Kevin Kugler and Shon Morris on the call.
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.