Monday night game for the Big Ten? I’ll take it. Far too often will the Big Ten, along with other conferences, stack conference games on one day. If it was an option, the Big Ten and other conferences should have a game every single day, but that’s just my thinking.
Anyways, a road game against one of the hottest teams in Illinois, chances of winning were already slim. Then to find out Cam Mack came down with an illness and didn’t travel with the team, chances of winning dropped from 10% to 5%.
Even without Mack, that didn’t stop Hoiberg and the boys from coming out strong and fighting for every loose ball. Dachon Burke started in place of Mack and took over ball-handling duties, while Yvan Ouedraogo returned as a starter for Kevin Cross.
Both teams started off ice cold, with the score 9-4 at the U16 Media Timeout even though the Huskers were shooting 2-7 at that point. Illinois shot so poorly on one offensive possession they had to grab five offensive rebounds before scoring. By the U12 Media Timeout, Illinois already had seven offensive rebounds. However, after Illinois took a 22-11 run, something clicked for the Huskers.
Nebraska’s defense began to take over with traps and double teams, specifically in the interior. Kofi Cockburn and other Illini when they received the ball down low were bombarded by Burke, Charlie Easley, and others. The Huskers proceeded to go on an 7-0 run and cut the lead to 28-25 at the U4 Media Timeout.
Nebraska extended that into a 13-3 run, erasing an 11 point deficit and tying the game up at 31-31 with a minute to go. But of course, the first half will never end well for the Huskers, when Trent Frazier did this:
Trent Frazier just beat the halftime buzzer, from three-quarters court. pic.twitter.com/v0RhKVfuJp— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) February 25, 2020
All of the momentum immediately shifted to Illinois, and everyone on Nebraska looked down and shook their heads. Hope would be hard to grab back after that, trailing 37-31 at halftime, but Nebraska’s grit would not go away.
A rare hot start for the Huskers kept them in the game for some time in the second half, making six of its first seven. Credit to Thorir Thorbjarnarson and Ouedraogo for rallying the strong start, tying it at 46-46 at the U16 Media Timeout. Unfortunately after that, things started to unravel as the Huskers short-handed team grew tired, and Cockburn began to dominate.
While Ouedraogo tried to do his best, Cockburn is too overpowering of a center, ranking as one of the best in the Big Ten. Illinois jumped out to a 61-53 lead with eight minutes to go, and never looked back. On a night where Nebraska only shot 15 threes, and only made five, driving to the hoop and drawing contact would have been the only way Nebraska won this game.
With a presence like Cockburn and quick guards like Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu, Nebraska struggled to drive to the hoop, and that would lead to contested shots and difficult passes for this offense, and Illinois took advantage of that. By the five minute mark, the game was already over, as Illinois took their largest lead of the night 65-53 and Hoiberg called a timeout.
A tale as old as time, as the Huskers play terrific in the first half, but struggle to find any rhythm in the second, falling to the Fighting Illini 71-59. However, they’re plenty of bright spots to look to in this loss, specifically with Ouedraogo.
Ouedraogo played the best game of his college career by far, recording a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, as well as only one turnover. Even without his normal distributor Cam Mack, and facing an All-Big Ten player in Kofi Cockburn, Ouedraogo came to play and played his heart out. The 17 year old is still learning, but if he can find a way to put nights like these together consistently, he could become a prominent player for this Huskers team.
Also speaking to the absence of Cam Mack, this team went into a hostile Illinois environment without their star player, and still managed to keep it close for awhile. Pretty cool to see this team compete with one of the Big Ten’s best teams without their go-to guy, and definitely bodes well for the future of this team.
Hoiberg and his team will get there, patience is the most important virtue. Hoiberg’s first season at Iowa State he went 3-13 in conference play, only to turn it around in the second season and finish with a 12-4 conference play record. It will only go up from here. The Huskers covered too so there’s that as well.