Illini Men Cloud Nebraska’s NCAA Forecast With 72-66 Win
Leron Black scored a career-high 28 points to lead the Illini men to their third conference win of the season yesterday in Champaign, 72-66 over Nebraska.
On an unseasonably warm, sunny Sunday afternoon, a sellout crowd stayed indoors to see the Big Ten's worst team beat a Cornhusker squad that couldn't afford to lose.
Nebraska head coach Tim Miles says he wasn't surprised by Black's offensive dominance.
"He was a highly rated kid out of high school. He's a good player," Miles said after the game. "He's just growing into his own, I think, and I'm sure Brad (Underwood) has been a good influence on him."
Kipper Nichols added a dozen points for the Illini, as did freshman guard Trent Frazier, who said the key to Illinois' offense is feeding Black in the post.
"We go to him early and look for him a lot, because I believe he’s the best player in the Big Ten," Frazier said. "Once you get the ball in his spot, no one can stop him down there, so we’re just going to keep going to him.”
Nichols and Aaron Jordan tied Black for a team-high seven rebounds apiece. The Illini won the battle of the boards by a 38-29 tally, despite a considerable height disadvantage.
Illini coach Brad Underwood praised Jordan's rebounding especially, and also downplayed the suggestion that Sunday's sellout crowd was odd, despite his team's losing record.
"I keep saying it's one of the reasons I wanted to be here, a sellout crowd for a team that keeps fighting and has been extrememly resilient," he said. "I can't thank them enough, and I can't say enough about them."
Isaac Copeland led Nebraska with 17 points. Isaiah Roby added 14, and a game-high 10 rebounds.
The Cornhuskers have been the subject of nationwide speculation regarding their likelihood of receiving an NCAA Tournament bid. Losing to a last-place Illinois team didn't help.
Miles, who is commonly regarded as the Big Ten's most forthright and funniest coach, acknowledged that his team was plenty nervous about their tourney chances, regardless of Sunday's outcome, which didn't help.
"Well, we were plenty worried coming in," Miles said. "It might be disappointing, but at the same time, nobody's going to feel sorry for you. You just strap it on (Monday), get ready for Indiana, and let's play on Tuesday."
Nebraska drops to 20-9 overall, 11-5 in the Big Ten. Illinois is now 13-15 on the year, 3-12 in conference.
A whirlwind week awaits Illinois, with games at Michigan State on Tuesday, Senior Night against Purdue at home on Thursday, at Rutgers in Piscataway on Sunday, and a first-round Big Ten Tournament game next Wednesday in New York.