CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — This game was WAY too close to being given away.
After a 10-point lead evaporated in the final three minutes of regulation, two pairs of free throws in the final minute by Marcus Domask and Justin Harmon and a clutch steal from Terrence Shannon Jr. allowed Illinois to sneak by in an 87-84 overtime win Sunday night over Nebraska at State Farm Center. Coleman Hawkins led the way for Illinois with 20 points.
Domask had a chance to ice the game in the final seconds, but the 89% free throw shooter only made the first of his two attempts to tie the game up at 73 and sent it to overtime.
Shannon also had a chance to close this one out, but missed his final two free throws in extra time to keep this win a one-score game. Nebraska’s Keisei Tominaga missed a three-quarters court heave off the backboard at the buzzer.
“Pretty much a typical day in the Big Ten,” said Brad Underwood. “Best league in the country, great coaches, great players.”
In a clash between two of the Big Ten’s top four teams — and with just nine games left in conference play — Illinois now finds itself right in the thick of a battle for the regular season title. The Illini’s 8-3 conference record has them just 1.5 games behind first-place Purdue (current No. 2 in AP poll) and tied with Wisconsin (No. 6) for second. The Badgers lost two games this week (at Nebraska, vs. Purdue).
“We’re in control of our destiny,” Hawkins said. “To go out and win tonight is very big because it’s just one step closer to what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Despite a much-needed win in the end, this one started out interesting. This game saw seven lead changes in the first 10 minutes.
Outside of the play itself, Underwood received a technical foul just five minutes in after he appeared to be upset with something referee Owen Shortt said to him.
When asked what happened in the interaction, Underwood simply replied, “Nothing.”
Tominaga was hot early on, scoring 12 points in the first seven minutes after not eclipsing seven points in each of his previous three games. He finished with a career-high 31 points and led the Cornhuskers in scoring.
“You see his release, you see where he shoots it from, he’s one headiest and smartest players in college basketball,” Underwood said. “He had an elite defender guarding him most of night in Terrence Shannon, and still got them off.”
Even after shooting just 39.3% from the field and 3-of-13 from three, Illinois (17-5, 8-3) only found itself down 36-34 at the break. Nebraska (16-7, 6-6) shot an impressive 46.2% from behind the arc in the first 20 minutes.
The Illini came out hot after the break, making their first six shots en route to a 13-4 run to start the half. After taking a 40-38 lead in the first two minutes of the second, they had it for just about the rest of the way.
Dainja provided a spark Illinois needed down the stretch, scoring all 6 of his points in the second half on 3-of-4 shooting.
“The biggest thing that I’ve seen is just him staying locked in, even when he’s not playing, just being that positive guy on the bench and just working hard in practice,” said Ty Rodgers. “Everybody knows his time is going to come and the last two games when his number has been called, he’s showed up.”
With Nebraska still hanging around late, two late threes from Shannon gave Illinois its first double-digit lead at 72-62.
The lead didn’t hold for long, as the Cornhuskers went on a 9-0 run to make it a one-point game with 30 seconds remaining.
“We just got a little out of whack offensively,” Hawkins said. “Just not much movement and we had to shoot some tough shots.”
A jumper from Nebraska’s Rienk Mast with nine seconds left in regulation gave Nebraska the 73-72 lead before a free throw from Domask sent this one into overtime.
“I knew I could draw a foul if I showed them the ball a little bit,” Domask said. “So I showed the ball a little bit, they reached in and going up for the shot, I gave myself an opportunity at the line.”
In the overtime period, Quincy Guerrier and Domask co-led the Illini with 4 points each to seal the win.
A win is a win, but the end of regulation was just about as ugly as it could’ve been. Once again, the Illini made a victory at home a lot harder than it should’ve been.
“You take a win in this league and move on to the next,” Underwood said. “I don’t care if they’re pretty or ugly or what they are, you just want to win, it doesn’t matter how you do it.”
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Coleman Hawkins getting it done on both ends.
Shannon with the feed and Rodgers with the slam.
TSJ SOARS in transition for the huge throw down.
- Illinois struggled mightily from deep, shooting just 26.5% on 9-of-34 shooting.
- The Illini dominated down low, outscoring Nebraska 40-26 in the paint and out-rebounding them 50-33. “Our identity has been on the glass,” Domask said.
- Tominaga was on fire in the first for the Cornhuskers, ending the half with more points (15) than he had in each of his last three games combined (14).
- This win marked the eighth in a row for the Illini over Nebraska, with the streak dating back to Feb. 2, 2019.
- Nebraska was a perfect 100% on free throws after shooting 14-of-14 from the charity stripe in this one.
TWEET OF THE GAME
Nobody hits the boards like Ty Rodgers.
The way Ty Rodgers hustles is every coach's dream. He never takes a play off.— Noah Cowell (@cowell_noah) February 5, 2024
A nice little break. Illinois will head to East Lansing to take on Michigan State on Saturday.
Tipoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. on CBS.