Missed shot, after missed shot, after missed shot. That was the theme for the Illinois Fighting Illini on Sunday night as they fell to 11-6 (1-3) on the season after a 53-43 loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Terran Petteway led the way for Nebraska with 18 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists on 6/13 shooting; Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill both contributed 12 points for Illinois.
The first half in Lincoln was atrocious. Illinois came out chucking, but nothing was falling as they shot 28% from the field and 3/17 (17.6%) from three-point range. Ball movement was non-existent and the Illini were forcing bad shots at seemingly every opportunity. However there were a few bright spots for Illinois; Kendrick Nunn logged a quick 7 points and Nnanna Egwu hauled in 8 rebounds during the the first 20 minutes. Despite these early contributions, the Huskers entered the break with a 28-22 lead.
The second half of play was just as ugly as the first. Nebraska didn't exactly play their best game, but the Huskers were swarming on the defensive end. Coupled with some nice contributions from Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields (11 points), Tim Miles' squad was able to completely control the pace of the game.
The Illini will travel to Evanston on Wednesday to face the Northwestern Wildcats before returning to Champaign for home contests against Indiana and Purdue. Before all that, here's what we learned from Illinois' loss at Nebraska.
Things We Learned:
After a decent performance against Maryland, the Illinois offense returned to it's previous form. There was no movement off the ball, bad shots were being chucked up without remorse, and there was zero attempt to get the ball inside. The final team numbers against Nebraska were 27.3% (15/55) from the field and 20.7% (6-29) from three-point range. Yes, the Huskers played a great game on defense, but that just can't happen.
The good news? Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill were much more aggressive on Sunday. The shots weren't falling, but their attacking mindset needs to remain a constant if Illinois has any hope of regaining some momentum.
We've avoided including this for awhile now, but Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby simply have to do much, much better. If you remove Cosby's garbage-time layup, the two combined for 8 points on 2/13--which doesn't seem THAT bad, but it was THAT bad given their shot selection.
It's not even worth it to go into their season numbers at this point. They've been terrible. Frankly, there's not much Groce can do except hope that the duo shows drastic improvement. The team just doesn't have the depth to do anything else at this point.
Edit: Actually, we are going to get into their season numbers a bit. Here are their shooting percentages this year:
Besides injuries, this is the story of the #Illini sason: Aaron Cosby is shooting 28.5% and Ahmad Starks is shooting 32.6%.— Jeremy Werner (@WernerESPNCU) January 12, 2015
3. Need to figure it out now
Illinois has fallen to 1-3 in the Big Ten, but there's still some hope. The next "stretch" of games includes contests against Northwestern, Purdue, Penn State, and Rutgers. The Illini will actually be in an ok position assuming they can somehow take care of those while stealing a victory against either Indiana or Minnesota.
The Big Ten is down this year and the time to make a tournament push has already begun.
Illinois Fighting Illini: