This browser does not support the video element.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — No Ayo, no problem.
No. 5 Illinois easily dispatched of the Nebraska men’s basketball team Thursday night, 86-70, despite its best player, guard Ayo Dosunmu, missing the game with a facial injury.
The Illini needed all of Dosunmu’s 31 points to stave off the Huskers in Lincoln. In the rematch 13 days later, Illinois seized control of a tight, physical game midway through the first half and kept Nebraska at bay with lots of free throws and dunks.
Nebraska (5-17, 1-14 Big Ten) lost its fifth straight and was led by guard Trey McGowens, who had 18 points and four rebounds. Teddy Allen, 48 hours after scoring 41 points against Penn State, had one of his worst games of the season with five points — on 2 of 6 shooting — and four of Nebraska’s 17 turnovers.
The Illini (17-6, 13-4) were led by center Kofi Cockburn — 24 points and seven rebounds — and blue chip freshmen guards Adam Miller (18 points) and Andre Curbelo, who had 10 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. Hoiberg praised all three players, particularly the 7-foot, 285-pound Cockburn, who hit 8 of his 10 free throws.
“They’re the fifth-ranked team in the country, so I’d say they’re a very good team,” Hoiberg said. “Kofi’s an unbelievably difficult matchup — especially when he’s knocking down free throws like he was tonight. And then Miller got it going.”
Miller keyed a 12-5 run midway through the first half, scoring 10 of the 12 in a variety of ways, including a 3-pointer and baseline dunk. The run pushed the Illini’s 18-16 lead to 30-21 with 3:07 left.
From there, the game got choppy. Officials whistled four technical fouls — two on each team, with Allen and Lay Mayen picking them up for the Huskers — as NU and Illini players argued with each other often after the whistle. The officiating crew, led by Kelly Pfeifer, drew sharp criticism from Big Ten Network analyst Stephen Bardo, who said on air fans didn’t tune in to see Pfeifer “give out technical fouls.”
The Illini led 34-26 at the half as the teams combined for 22 turnovers and 20 fouls in the first 20 minutes. Hoiberg said the Huskers’ offense “played much more selfish than we had been” in the first half.
“We just continue to have careless, mindless turnovers, driving it into the pile,” Hoiberg said. “Problem is, I take a guy out for it, put the next guy in, he does the same damn thing. So it’s frustrating to continue to see that happen. The second half was a little better.”
On offense, anyway. NU kept the game close for three minutes in the second half before Illinois, behind six straight points from Cockburn, went on a 9-0 run to make it 51-36. Nebraska never got closer than nine after that as Illinois scored 52 second-half points. The Illini made 9 of 11 layups and all seven dunks on top of all the trips they took to the foul line.
Nebraska forward Derrick Walker, who had seven points and five rebounds before getting into foul trouble, praised Cockburn and Illinois’ physicality.
“You have to play harder than them — which we didn’t do tonight,” Walker said.
Allen struggled considerably against Illinois guard Trent Frazier, who also guarded Dalano Banton at times. Hoiberg said after the game that Allen has been battling a wrist injury that gets worse when the wrist is bent backwards. Allen grabbed at his wrist several times Thursday night.
“When he gets hit in that wrist, he feels it immediately,” Hoiberg said. “I give Teddy credit for battling through it.”
NU next plays Saturday against Minnesota. It’s clear, based on his postgame comments, that Hoiberg wants his team to get off to a fast start each game, as fatigue — evident down the stretch against Illinois — sets in as the minutes tick by. Nebraska kept the game close early with Illinois, but did not establish itself on offense. The “urgency,” Hoiberg said, was off.
“We’re not getting many offensive rebounds right now and we’re getting exposed in transition, and that can’t happen,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve got to get back.”
» Illinois played without its star guard, Dosunmu, who broke his nose Tuesday night in a loss to Michigan State. Dosunmu scored 31 points in the first game against the Huskers on Feb. 12. Though just a junior, Dosunmu was honored before the game as a senior, since he’s expected to head to the NBA after this season. He kissed the midcourt logo. As he sat on the bench, he had a clear bruise under his eye, the result of a flagrant foul on Michigan State’s Mady Dissoko, who was ejected from Tuesday night’s game.
» Back when Hoiberg could scout high school players in person, he was impressed by Illinois’ Curbelo, a now-freshman from Brooklyn, New York. Curbelo came into the game averaging 7.6 points and 4.1 assists per game and nearly had a triple double.
“He does a great job with the ‘ol Steve Nash — probing across the baseline, where he finds guys,” Hoiberg said. “We were going to keep our guy home, (not) chase him underneath the basket, and stay home with the shooters and underneath, and I thought we helped a couple times as opposed to trying to make him finish over length at the basket. But he does such a good job, He’s got an incredible feel.”
» Point guard Dalano Banton had six points, four rebounds, one assist and three turnovers in 23 minutes, which was ten more than he played on Tuesday night…NU made 11 of 12 on layups and dunks...the Huskers did not lead at any time during the game.