The Nebraska Cornhuskers were so close tonight to both snapping a now 26-game conference losing streak and getting the first win over a top-10 team since beating No. 9 Wisconsin 77-68 on March 9, 2014. However, the Illinois Fighting Illini proved to be too much down the stretch and forced overtime thanks in part to one of the worst executed plays to wind down the clock I have seen in a long, long time in college basketball.
Husker fans who have watched the team struggle through long stretches of games so far this season who still stayed loyal and tuned into this one were awarded with quite the treat. Nebraska jumped out to a 9-0 lead on a jumper by Derrick Walker just under three minutes into the game and held onto the shutout into the first media timeout.
The Illini finally got on the boards but spent the entire half playing catch-up after that. Anytime it seemed like Illinois was finally seizing control and would mount a run, the Huskers would rally and push the lead back to their advantage. Nebraska, despite facing one of the top centers in the country, managed 18 points in the paint in the first half. The Huskers also won at the glass 17-16, holding Illinois to just six second chance points to the Huskers eight. Nebraska also shot 37.5 percent from deep in the first half.
The teams traded leads back and forth for just over the first ten minutes of the second half before Illinois briefly seized control. However, the Huskers never let it get out of hand for a change. Nebraska tied it back up at 56 with 6:11 to go off a Trey McGowens layup in the midst of a 9-0 run by the Huskers. Nebraska would go on to seize a 64-58 lead with 2:55 to go.
The Illini continued to rely on all-star point guard Ayo Dosumnu in the final minutes, though, as he finished out scoring Illinois’s final ten points to force overtime as the game was tied 66-66 at the final regulation buzzer. Nebraska had a chance to tie it up, but a seeming miscue left Trey McGowens standing around dribbling with the ball by himself and ignoring a screen attempt by teammate Teddy Allen who then refused to clear out and leave McGowens in isolation. Dosunmu jumped the screen when McGowens finally tried to use it with not enough time left to get open and the shot might as well have not even been attempted for how far short it fell. There was an arguable lack of a whistle on the call, but McGowens leaned into the attempt too much to likely force the issue.
The Huskers went on to fall in overtime 77-72. Lat Mayen led the team in scoring with 16 points, including 3-for-8 from three-point range and 3-3 at the free throw line. McGowens and Allen both added 15 apiece. Thor added eight points including 2-3 from three-point range. Derrick Walker and Allen led on the boards with eight apiece and Walker led in assists with three.
Nebraska is back in action on Sunday at Penn State. Game tips at 3 on BTN.