GAME NOTES: Both the Illinois Fighting Illini and the Nebraska Cornhuskers will attempt to build momentum off their respective wins last weekend when the squads meet up on Wednesday night for a Big Ten Conference matchup at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Illinois had been stuck in a prolonged state of futility with eight straight losses prior to its 60-55 home victory over Penn State on Sunday afternoon. The Illini are now 14-10 overall, but just 3-8 in the Big Ten, and they've gone just 2-5 away from home.
Nebraska picked up an impressive road victory on Saturday afternoon, besting Northwestern, 53-49, to improve to 12-10 overall and 4-6 in league action. The Cornhuskers, who have won three of their last four games, have done most of their damage at home this season, going 10-1 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Illinois has a 10-3 lead over Nebraska in the all-time series, which includes wins in three of the last four matchups since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten.
The Illini trailed PSU by three points with less than seven minutes to play in their most recent contest but finished the game off on an 11-3 run to capture the five-point victory and snap their lengthy losing streak. They shot just 38.8 percent from the field in the low-scoring affair but held PSU to an even worse 38.2 percent shooting. Kendrick Nunn paced the effort with a career-high 19 points on 4-of-9 from 3-point range. Malcolm Hill added 11 points and Tracy Abrams handed out five assists.
On the season, Illinois has regularly put together strong efforts on the defensive end of the floor, as it holds its opponents to just 41.6 percent field goal shooting and 64.2 ppg, but unfortunately its offensive attack of 67.3 ppg on 41.2 percent shooting has not been up to par. Rayvonte Rice is the catalyst, as he scores 16.5 ppg, while also leading the team in rebounding (6.0 rpg) and steals (30). Abrams puts up 11.5 ppg but on just 35.5 percent from the field, while Joseph Bertrand (10.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg) rounds out the double-digit scorers.
The Cornhuskers also found themselves on the positive end of a low-scoring game last weekend, and they overcame an eight-point halftime deficit to take down Northwestern by four. They were able to overcome a lackluster 40.4 percent shooting effort by draining seven 3-pointers and scoring 14 points off of 13 NU turnovers. Terran Petteway shot just 5-of-16 from the field but still finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Walter Pitchford knocked down 3-of-4 from beyond the arc on his way to 15 points.
Nebraska has now scored 60 points or less in four of its last five games and are saddled with a less-than-stellar scoring offense on the season (67.1 ppg), but it has remained competitive thanks to an impressive scoring defense (66.9 ppg). It also owns a +1.6 turnover margin and shoots a respectable 70.2 percent from the free-throw line. Petteway is a proven scorer with 17.5 ppg on 44.6 percent field goal shooting to go with 5.3 rpg and nearly a steal per contest. Shavon Shields (11.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Pitchford (8.7 ppg) can also be relied upon for regular contributions.
Although Illinois got back on the winning track in its latest bout, its underwhelming road record matched up against Nebraska and its outstanding homecourt advantage in this one does not bode well for the Illini.
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