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Illinois pulls away midway through 2nd, beats Nebraska 72-56

Illinois' RJ Melendez (15) works the ball inside against Nebraska's Jamarques Lawrence (10) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, in Champaign, Ill.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Matthew Mayer scored 16 points to lead four in double figures as Illinois beat Nebraska 72-56 on Tuesday night.

Illinois (16-6, 7-4 Big Ten) has won seven of its last eight games while Nebraska (10-13, 3-9) has lost four straight. The Illini are now in second place in the conference, just ahead of Northwestern and Rutgers, who are both 6-4.

Illinois pulled away with a 15-4 run for a 63-54 lead with 5:29 to play. Sencire Harris scored six points with a dunk during the stretch and Hawkins had four points.

Mayer was 4 of 14 from the floor and made three of the Illini’s five 3-pointers. Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 13 points, Jayden Epps had 12 and Coleman Hawkins added 10 points and eight rebounds. Harris had eight points.

Freshman guards Sencire Harris and Ty Rodgers combined to add 15 points and ten rebounds.

After the game, Rodgers talked about how head coach Brad Underwood motivates the team.

“He builds energy into us,” Rodgers said. “Like when he’s, when he’s screaming and stuff we’re not listening to him scream, we’re listening to what he’s saying, so he builds those relationships with each and every one of us, so it makes it way easier.”

Underwood said he’s been trying to get his players to focus on what they can control.

“I think our guys have to understand that mental approach, not making scouting report mistakes, playing with energy, that’s something we can control,” Underwood said. “We talked about it for the last two days.”

Sam Griesel scored 21 points on 7-of-17 shooting to lead Nebraska. The Cornhuskers shot 40% and turned it over 19 times.

The Cornhuskers opened the game on a 12-5 run, but Illinois led 38-37 at the break. The Illini forced three turnovers in the opening minutes of the second half and led 48-41. The Cornhuskers answered a pair of 3-pointers from Keisei Tominaga and one from C.J. Wilcher for their last lead at 50-48 with 12 minutes left.

Illinois plays at Iowa on Saturday. Nebraska hosts Penn State on Sunday.

Illinois Student Newsroom’s Colin Hislope contributed reporting to this story.

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Associated Press

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