Nebraska came to Champaign with the fourth-best record in the Big Ten, and the Illini were amidst a four game winning streak. The two teams had played earlier in the season, where the Illini suffered a heartbreaking loss on a buzzer beater three.
That one hurt, but Illinois came into the rematch knowing it could hang with the Huskers.
Illinois led for nearly the entire first half and was up by 10 at the break. It was one of Illinois’ best offensive halves of the year. Leron Black was making everything, Trent Frazier knocked down a few threes and Kipper Nichols was active and engaged.
Leron Black would post a career-high 28 points on 11-18 from the field (3-4 from three) while collecting seven rebounds. He had a extremely efficient season offensively, but he was able to put up these kind of numbers for the first time because he only committed two personal fouls and played 31 minutes against Nebraska.
This career performance caused us to dive deeper Leron’s substantial improvement from a year ago, where we took a look at his efficiency by the numbers. You can reed that deep dive here.
However, in typical 2017-18 Illinois fashion, the Illini came out flat to start the second half. They only maneged to score three points in the first 10 minutes of the second half. They allowed the Huskers to come all the way back and take the lead.
The Illini had no answer for Illinois product Isaiah Roby all night. Roby had 14 and 10 on 3-3 from three point range and was a big part of their comeback.
Unlike previous Big Ten matchups, the Illini got off the mat and Frazier and Black carried the Illini to a close win down the stretch. This was a nice step for a young team to bounce back from a rough start to the second half, after failing in similar situations so many times before.
Nebraska would be the best Big Ten team Illinois beat all season, and it was a loss that may have kept the Cornhuskers out of the NCAA Tournament.