LINCOLN, Neb. — The Illini men’s basketball team survived frigid temperatures and a feisty Nebraska squad to win its fifth straight Big Ten game Friday night in Lincoln. The overtime final was 77-72.
Ayo Dosunmu scored 15 points during a stretch that spanned the final 3:21 of regulation and the first minute of overtime. Illinois trailed 64-58 with 2:55 remaining before knotting the score at 66 with 20 seconds remaining. Nebraska was unable to execute its final play properly, sending the game to the extra period.
Huskers coach Fred Hoiberg said two of his players were out of position on that final play of regulation. The Huskers have had little opportunity to practice over the last month due to a weeks long COVID pause, followed by a hectic schedule of make-up games. They failed to convert any of their five field goal attempts in OT.
Nebraska opened the game with nine straight points. The Illini seemed to have trouble reading their hosts’ match-up zone, but Dosnumu said that wasn’t the problem.
“I wouldn’t say that. I just think early on we were a little tentative when it came to our selections with shots. We were making the right plays, but we were overthinking — you know, to drive it or to throw it into the post. I believe we got bogged down with that,” Donsumu said “But when we got comfortable we started making shots by making plays. We fixed that, we made adjustments with our defense and it was pretty cool.”
That optimism notwithstanding, Illini head coach Brad Underwood said he wasn’t surprised, but was disappointed by his team’s lackluster performance.
“Prior to (the Nebraska game) we thought we were gonna get Michigan on the schedule (February 11th, postponed). You’re gonna get two top-6 teams playing. And then all of a sudden it’s not Michigan. It’s a team who’s really struggling. All of a sudden this becomes that ‘trap game,’” Underwood said “We practiced not very good yesterday and our shootaround was horrible today. I thought our effort was okay. It was just our mental focus, and tenacity. When we don’t chase balls, that’s a pretty good sign to me.”
Dosunmu’s heroics, an ongoing narrative in the last calendar year of Illini basketball, were a surprise for Underwood, given the first 36 minutes of the game.
“It was his time,” the coach said. “What’s really unique is he had not played great. And he missed some opportunities he normally doesn’t. He missed free-throws.
“And yet, you dance with the one who got you there. And that’s what we did. He made big shots. He made a nice pass to Kofi (Cockburn). I’m just glad number 11 was on our team tonight.”
Dosunmu finished with 31 points, three rebounds, six assists and four steals. And four turnovers. He drew eight Husker fouls while committing only one.
Cockburn tallied another double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds. He missed three key free-throws in crunch time, but made 7-of-12 overall, including one that gave the Illini a 73-70 advantage with 1:17 remaining in overtime.
Trent Frazier and Adam Miller each contributed 10 points for Illinois. Coleman Hawkins, who added 5 points, was the only other Illini to score. Da’Monte Williams played 31:46 without attempting a shot. Instead, he contributed five rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and zero turnovers.
Nebraska got 16 points from Lat Mayen, plus 15 apiece from Teddy Allen and Trey McGowens. The Huskers are now 4-12 on the year, and 0-9 in the Big Ten. They’ve lost 26 consecutive conference games dating to last season. Hoiberg observed that the close loss will help his team’s confidence, knowing they can compete with “a national championship contender.”
Illinois improves to 14-5 overall, 10-3 in the Big Ten. Barring unforeseen schedule additions, their next game will come Tuesday night in Champaign against Northwestern. Tip time is 8 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.
Rob McColley covers University of Illinois sports for WILL.