CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A far better performance on the road Saturday for the Nebraska men’s basketball team still didn’t produce the desired result.
NU led probable NCAA tournament shoo-in Illinois entering the final five minutes at Assembly Hall, but faltered from there in a 72-65 loss.
The Huskers (13-16, 4-12) were coming off a 31-point loss at Wisconsin. The Illini (21-9, 8-8) hadn’t played in six days and were celebrating Senior Day. But Nebraska carried the play much of the day.
NU outshot U of I 45.5 percent to 43.6 percent even after hitting only 3 of its final 11 shots. The Huskers also had the game’s top two scorers in guards Ray Gallegos (23 points) and Dylan Talley (20).
Illinois countered with five double-figure scorers, and got eight points and an assist in the final 4:57 from guard Tracy Abrams to hold on in a game in which the largest lead was eight points. Abrams led the Illini with 16.
“It’s disappointing,” NU coach Tim Miles said. “We’re not into coming close. We didn’t guard as well as we needed to down the stretch.
“They drove the ball on us, especially Abrams. He was really vital.”
Contested 3-pointers late in the game from D.J. Richardson (13 points) and Brandon Paul (14) also helped flip the lead after Nebraska had gone up 57-55 on a Shavon Shields jumper.
“Players make plays in this league,” Miles said. “Good players are going to jump up and stick one in your eye.”
Nebraska fell behind 22-15 with 9:47 to go in the first half on an Abrams 3-pointer. The Huskers rallied to tie at 32, but Abrams hit a 28-foot 3-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer for a 35-32 Illinois lead.
In the second half, the largest lead for either team was four points until Abrams made a layup to put the Illini ahead 62-57 with 4:05 to go. Nebraska couldn’t get closer than two points after that.
“We missed some easy shots early in the second half,” Miles said. “We missed three layups and then a dunk later.
“So instead of playing with a little bit of a lead and getting them to panic — that’s how you win these games — we played them even, they make a run and you lose.”
The Huskers are tied for 10th in the Big Ten with Northwestern, but hold the tiebreaker after beating the Wildcats head to head.
Nebraska finishes the regular season with Minnesota at home and at Iowa. Northwestern hosts Penn State and plays at Michigan State.
NOTES: Nebraska forward David Rivers, questionable with a strained Achilles suffered Thursday while stretching before practice, started and played 35 minutes. ... Center Andre Almeida, cleared to play after missing the previous game with a knee strain, didn’t leave the bench. ... The Huskers’ next game is Wednesday at 8 p.m. against Minnesota, the hoops farewell to the Devaney Center after 37 years.