Published Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 9:47 pm / Updated at 5:33 pm
NU men drop third straight conference home game
>> After going 16 of 16 from the free-throw line at Penn State, the Huskers hit their first seven from the line for 23 in a row before David Rivers missed with 4:49 to go in the first half.

>> NU walk-ons Max Ritchie and Kye Kurkowski saw their first college action. Ritchie hit two free throws and Kurkowski grabbed two rebounds.

>> Miles wasn't alone in getting a technical foul. Illinois' Groce got one first, also for arguing officiating calls.

LINCOLN — Have a sick or ailing Big Ten men's basketball team?

Schedule a trip to Nebraska. The Devaney Center has become a house of healing for wayward visitors in need.

The Huskers on Tuesday night lost their third straight league game at home — 71-51 to Illinois, which had lost its previous three games by 17, 23 and 14 points.

Illinois guard D.J. Richardson, coming off a seven-point game against Northwestern, poured in 30 points. That was 20 more than his average and 10 more than his previous career high.

The clunker for NU (10-10, 1-6) came three days after a victory at Penn State. It was similar to a recent home letdown against Purdue after good road showings at Michigan and Michigan State.

“It's definitely weird,” senior forward Brandon Ubel said. “Traditionally, we've always been better at home than on the road.

“We've got to look at what each of us individually is doing the night before, the day before and really figure out how best we can get ready.”

Nebraska started flat at home for the third straight time. It never led and forced only one tie, 2-2.

Illinois (15-5, 2-4) had a double-digit lead less than eight minutes into the game, increased the margin to 14 before halftime and never let the Huskers get closer than six points after that.

At halftime, the Illini had more offensive rebounds (12) than Nebraska had total (10). The final overall rebounding margin was 40-28.

“I've coached a lot of games at a lot of different levels,” NU coach Tim Miles said, “and I don't think I've ever been as disappointed or embarrassed in one area of the game.”

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Rebounding wasn't the only statistic bothering Miles.

The Huskers had five assists and 14 turnovers. Three players had assists and seven had turnovers. They also went the final 8:50 of the first half without a field goal.

“It's embarrassing,” Miles said.

About the only thing that stirred the home crowd of 8,120 was a brief second-half surge that brought Nebraska within seven points at 51-44 with 8:14 to play.

On Illinois' ensuing possession, NU center Andre Almeida appeared to cleanly steal the ball from Brandon Paul. But a foul was called and Paul, who scored 14 points, hit two free throws.

Ubel missed a shot for NU, Illinois rebounded and then an Illini player appeared to travel. There was no call, and Richardson drilled a 3-pointer.

Miles drew a technical foul for arguing. Richardson hit both free throws to make it 58-44, completing a seven-point run in 44 seconds.

Nebraska freshman Shavon Shields learned that fame is fleeting in the Big Ten.

The 6-foot-6 wing was named Big Ten rookie of the week on Monday after scoring 18 and 29 points in two games last week.

Against Illinois, Shields had two points, four rebounds, five fouls and two turnovers. He hit only two of the eight shots he tried, both free throws.

“It was him being a freshman,” Miles said. “You play pretty good and now a hopped-up opponent is going to come after you. I don't think he responded very well, but he'll learn from that.”

Shields' recent work had caught Illinois coach John Groce's eye.

“We highlighted him,” he said. “We didn't want to give him or his team anything easy.”

The Illini's hounding man-to-man pressure starting 30 feet from the basket worked. Nebraska shot 31.8 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from 3-point range.

“Our effort level was off the charts on the defensive end,” Groce said. “The defensive end is where it needed to start.”

He offered a special salute to Richardson, who besides posting a career high held NU guard Ray Gallegos to 2-of-8 shooting and five points — eight less than his average.

“It's not often I've coached a guy who goes for 30 points and had to expend so much effort on the defensive end while doing it,” Groce said. “He was unbelievable.”

Nebraska's only double-figure scorers were guard Dylan Talley with 16 points and Ubel with 10. Another home game awaits Saturday against Northwestern, but Miles isn't sure that's a good thing.

NU is just 7-5 at the Devaney Center.

“We've certainly played better on the road where we have them in our environment and they seem to be more focused and energetic,” Miles said. “I think we seriously have to look at that with this group because it appears to me there is a stark contrast in how we're playing.”

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Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

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