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Illinois Basketball: 3 Observations from Nebraska



After a big win at Wisconsin over the weekend, the Illini had won six of seven after an 0-3 conference start. A shorthanded Nebraska team provided a test of Illinois’ focus in between big games. It was by no means a pretty game, however the Illini pulled away for a 72-56 win.

1. Chilly in Champaign

With Luke Goode still sidelined recovering from a foot injury, the Illini have been streaky at best from three all year. They were 268th in the nation going into the game. After a 5-29 shooting night, that number will go down. In fact, the Illini are shooting even worse in conference play than on the year, at just above 30%. Some of these are good misses, off ball movement and open for college shooters. However, when Matthew Mayer and Terrence Shannon Jr play outside-in, the offense tends to stall. Both are very capable shot makers and have had games of 4+ threes against power five competition, but they have to be the engine getting into the paint as the two dudes on offense even once Goode comes back.

2. Bodies from the Bench

When Nebraska had a 9-0 run in the middle of the second half to take a lead, Brad Underwood turned to his bench to stop the bleeding. All year, Sencire Harris has been a spark off the bench, providing instant energy and chaos. When Harris checks into the game, you notice. He goes absolutely balls to the wall every second he is out there. Tonight, he played smothering defense on Nebraska shooter Kesei Tominaga who made multiple threes in that run. As the season has gone on, however, he has gotten a partner in crime on that end off the bench. Ty Rodgers again came in and was a massive factor in Illinois pulling away late. With SIX offensive rebounds in just 19 minutes, Rodgers provided extra possessions to an offense that looked like it needed them all night. The duo also did not miss a single shot, converting well around the basket. Top 100 recruits off the bench is a luxury few in the conference can match, and it showed tonight.

3. Lock In, Lock Up

Nebraska was short on bodies, without two starters who have sustained season ending injuries. As such, Sam Griesel came out looking to carry the Huskers offensively and gave them a foothold early on. Griesel had 15 points in the first 12 minutes of the game and was able to get to his spots on Shannon. After that Underwood moved Coleman Hawkins over to that matchup, with Shannon getting another shot in the second half along with Rodgers. As usual Coleman shut off the water of a big ball handler like he has all year. Griesel scored just six points in the next 28 minutes and with Derrick Walker in foul trouble the Nebraska offense sputtered. This team has to be defense first, especially when the shots aren’t falling from deep.

With this win the Illini move to 16-6 on the year and 7-4 in conference. It caps off an eight-win January that saw them go from last to tied for second in the conference. Illinois will look to keep the winning coming at Iowa on Saturday.

Brian is a former sports writer for the Daily Illini who has been covering Illinois Basketball for over 5 years. Brian is now the lead basketball reporter for Armchair Illini, the go-to source for Illinois athletics news. He has had work published on Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, USA Today and more.