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Without Mack, Huskers Lack Execution in Loss at Illinois

February 24, 2020

The hits—and the losses—just keep coming for the Huskers.

Cam Mack—dealing with an illness—didn’t make the trip to Champaign as Illinois outscored Nebraska 25-13 over the final 15 minutes to secure a 71-59 win over the Huskers on Monday night.

Nebraska losing streak has reached 12 games, and the Huskers have faced a deficit of 14 or more points in all 12 games.

With Mack out, Nebraska started both Jervay Green and Dachon Burke Jr. in the backcourt. Burke scored 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting while Green had four points on 2-of-6 shooting, playing 34 and 32 minutes, respectively. The pair combined for three assists and three turnovers. Charlie Easley played 11 minutes as the only guard off the bench  and had two points, two rebounds, one steal and two turnovers.

As a team, Nebraska had a season-low eight assists and tied its season-low in 3-pointers, shooting 5-of-15.

“Obviously would have liked the execution to be better, but when you’re missing your guy that’s got the ball in his hands between 35 and 38 minutes every game, you’re going to struggle with some of those possessions,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought when we moved it, got the ball shifted side-to-side, we had some really quality possessions out there.”

Nebraska played well enough for stretches to tie the game once in each half despite digging a double-digit hole late in the first half. Illinois jumped out to a 9-2 lead early and used a 6-0 run fueled by transition play to stretch the advantage to 11 at 22-11 at the nine-minute mark

Trailing 28-18 with around five minutes to play, Nebraska put together a 13-3 run to tie it up at 31-all. Burke and Haanif Cheatham, who led the Huskers with 14 points in the game, combined for 11 of Nebraska’s 13 points during that stretch.

Then Trent Frazier, scoreless for the first 19:40, hit a step-back 3 to break the tie. Nebraska ran down the clock and Thorir Thorbjarnarson threw up a contested floater that was well short. The rebound bounced into Frazier’s hands and he threw it up from Nebraska’s free-throw line at the buzzer, burying it to give the Illini a 37-31 lead at the break.

“They get those six points right before halftime to get that momentum including that 70-footer, it’s tough,” Hoiberg said. “But our guys came out, battled, came back and tied it with about 15 left.”

Whatever tactic Hoiberg took in the locker room during halftime seemed to work as the Huskers hit six of their first seven shots and outscored Illinois 15-9 to tie it up at 46-all at the 15-minute mark.

The fun stopped there, however. The Huskers hit just three of their next 14 shots and turned he ball over four times as Illinois look its biggest lead of he game a 67-53 with less than five minutes to play, and the final four minutes in change featured minimal offense from either team.

“They go on an 11-1 run and we couldn’t quite get back into it after that,” Hoiberg said. “It seems to be that for our team every game is eliminating that stretch where a team goes on a big run on us like that. It had nothing to do with effort tonight. We continue to go out and battle. I’m going to be proud of these guys no matter what the outcome is.”

Nebraska’s plan was to pack the paint against a poor shooting Illini team that features a 7-foot, 290-pound monster in the middle in freshman Kofi Cockburn. Illinois went 5-of-19 from 3 (including the end-of-half heave), so that part of the game plan worked, but the Huskers didn’t execute well enough in other areas for it to matter. Illinois converted 13 Nebraska turnovers into 10 points and the Illini grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, outscoring Nebraska 14-5 in second-chance points.

Cockburn finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds and was a game-high plus-21 in 28 minutes.

“He’s a dominant player in there,” Hoiberg said. “They had 14 more possession than we did tonight, a lot of them due to him with offensive rebounds and we had too many turnovers, 13 turnovers in that game as well. To give them 14 extra possessions—I think they had 14 second-chance points on us as well—it’s tough to win a game on the road when you do that, when you give a team that many extra bullets. I thought transition [defense] the first half was very poor for us. We gave up a lot. Second half, we did a much better job of getting back.”

Cockburn wasn’t the only freshman with a double-double, however. Yvan Ouedraogo battled with him all night, showing off a few impressive post moves and recording his second straight double-digit scoring game with 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting, 10 rebounds, two steals and one block in 27 minutes, all while dealing with recent back spasms.

The Huskers will return home for two more home games before closing out the regular season on the road. Next up is a rematch with Ohio State on Thursday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

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