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Illinois falls to Nebraska in Big Ten opener

Slow start, sloppy play, and the sixth loss in eight games.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Entering Big Ten play as the league’s only team below .500 was bad.

Illinois’ start against Nebraska on Sunday afternoon was even worse.

The Illini (2-6, 0-1 Big Ten) couldn’t buy a stop early on against the Cornhuskers (7-1, 1-0) on Sunday in Lincoln, en route to a 75-60 loss to open conference play.

James Palmer Jr. sunk two free throws on Nebraska’s opening possession, and Giorgi Bezhanishvili evened up the tally with a bucket of his own for Illinois. Then, the Cornhuskers scored 13 unanswered before a Kipper Nichols three-pointer, and before the first media timeout, the Illini were already trailing by eight.

Making matters worse, Nebraska didn’t score for five minutes after the opening stretch, and Illinois still found itself trailing midway through the first half.

But that’s been the story throughout the start of the season for Illinois, with its only wins still coming against Evansville and Mississippi Valley State. With Rutgers’ win over Miami in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge earlier this week and another blowout loss for the Illini, Illinois continues to look like the conference’s worst team.

Giorgi Bezhanishvili was one of the Illini’s only offensive threats, finishing with a team-high 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting. But the Georgian freshman also picked up his fourth foul with more than 12 minutes left in the second half, forcing him to stay on the bench as Illinois attempted to mount a comeback. He fouled out with 1:41 to play in the game.

Illinois cut a 13-point deficit to nine on Ayo Dosunmu’s four-point play midway through the half, but Nebraska responded by opening the lead back up and holding on over the game’s final minutes. Dosunmu shot just 3-of-11 from the field and had five turnovers in one of his worst performances of his freshman season.

A Kipper Sighting!

Kipper Nichols, who was benched earlier this season, had one of his best first halves of the year as he kept the Illini afloat. In the first half, Nichols tallied eight points and made two three-pointers, while also collecting two rebounds.

That’s the Kipper you need to expect — and see — all season if Illinois has any chance of being competitive going forward.

Nichols finished with 10 points 4-of-5 shooting after a relatively quiet second half.


Half of Illinois’ losses came in a 48-hour span in Maui, and two were to Notre Dame and Georgetown, where Illinois was competitive with a chance to win in each. This loss was different, though.

Anyways, it’s now an all-time bad start to the season for Illinois.


There are a lot of fundamental issues with Illinois’ defense, which has led to it being incredibly frustrating to watch and unreliable so far this season. It starts with the lack of a big, but also how aggressive it is and how far up the line they play.

With three Illini at the free throw line-extended, this backdoor pass that leaves Nebraska with one man to beat — the undersized Frazier — is not an ideal situation, and something other teams will attempt to manipulate all season long.



Illinois finishes its Big Ten December slate in a neutral site ‘home’ game versus Ohio State on Wednesday night at the United Center in Chicago.

Tip is 6 p.m., and thousands of tickets are still available for the Illini’s matchup with one of the conference’s smaller teams. Yet, the Buckeyes were ranked the No. 1 team in the country in last week’s NET rankings, so it likely is not a favorable game for win No. 3.

The Big Ten expanded its conference schedule to 20 games this season, leading to the second year where teams play a pair of conference games in early December. The first time was 2017 when the conference needed to find an extra week in the schedule with the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden pushing everything up a week.

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