Nebraska’s school-record losing streak reached 12 games on Monday night as Illinois turned a tie game early in the second half into an easy 12-point win. Here are five takeaways on the loss.
It’s a good thing that the Big Ten Tournament is not in Chicago this season.
Monday night was Nebraska’s second game in the state of Illinois under Fred Hoiberg. Both trips to Hoiberg’s former state of residency resulted in losses where Nebraska failed to reach the 60-point mark.
The Huskers have topped 60 in every other Big Ten Conference game this season.
Surely it’s just coincidence, along with some poor timing for starting point guard Cam Mack to be sidelined with an illness. Regardless, I’m sure the Huskers will be glad to be done with trips to the Land of Lincoln this season.
Cam Mack’s absence showcased how much the offense depends on him.
Junior guards Jervay Green and Dachon Burke filled in admirably for Mack, but Nebraska’s offense was choppy at best on Monday night. The Huskers had 13 turnovers in the loss, 11 of which came from guards.
Perhaps what was more telling was Nebraska only registering eight assists in the game. Not surprisingly, that’s what Nebraska’s average would be without Mack’s six per game.
What also didn’t come as a surprise was the early Illinois blitzkrieg in transition. With Nebraska still trying to figure itself out on offense, the Fighting Illini were smart to push the tempo immediately and got 12 early points in transition out of it.
It’s unclear how long Mack will be out, but this team sorely needs him back.
The final minute of the first half was a fitting summary of this season.
After the initial shock of Illinois’s run, Nebraska settled in and once again appeared to be going into halftime tied up. Instead, Illinois junior Trent Frazier made his first 3-pointer of the night then corralled a loose ball and somehow heaved up a 70-foot prayer before the halftime buzzer that went in, turning a tie game into a 37-31 halftime advantage.
This is now the fifth consecutive game that Nebraska has allowed its opponent to score in the final 30 seconds of the first half.
The margin for error is practically non-existent with this team, and surrendering preventable points right before halftime has proven to be a back-breaker over the past several weeks.
Freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo is making a strong case to continue starting next season.
The 17-year-old from France had another outstanding game, finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Those numbers are even more impressive considering the disadvantage he faced going up against Illinois’s behemoth 7-foot freshman center Kofi Cockburn.
Ouedraogo’s defense still needs some work, but he has quietly turned into a stabilizing force in the paint that this team has desperately needed. Next season will see an influx of plenty of guards and forwards, but the only potential replacement for Ouedraogo is Tennessee transfer Derrick Walker.
If Ouedraogo continues on this trajectory and works on his shot this offseason, he could be a breakthrough candidate in the Big Ten next year.
Illinois picked up a desperately needed win, but needs to clean up its act before the NCAA Tournament.
The Fighting Illini won their second consecutive game after losing four straight and have all of the pieces necessary to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
But if this team turns it over 10 or more times and continues to go through similar shooting dry spells, it could be a short stay at the big dance.
What’s scary about Illinois is that most of this team that is already competing for a conference championship is still underclassmen. If most of them return, they could be the favorites to win the Big Ten in 2021.
The Fighting Illini and the Huskers both have quick turnarounds, as Illinois plays at Northwestern and Nebraska hosts Ohio State on Thursday night.