White leads Nebraska past Illinois
Champaign, Ill. — On offense Saturday, Andrew White III started slowly. He hit just one shot from the field in the first half and went to the locker room with six points.
But he also had a half dozen rebounds — something to build on.
White finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Cornhuskers (11-8, 3-3 Big Ten) by Illinois, 78-67.
“I think mainly what got me going was getting on offensive rebounds,” White said. “My rebounding on both ends was what sparked my offensive game.
The win was Nebraska’s third in four games.
Illinois (10-9, 3-3) has lost four of its last five and continued to miss injured big men Mike Thorne Jr. and Leron Black.
Both are out for the season and, without them, the Illini have struggled on the boards and to create any sort of inside offense. On Saturday, that left the Illini to launch 3-pointers, 37 of them in all, 62 percent of their 59 shots. They made just 11.
Illinois coach John Groce said his team should never have taken that many long-range shots.
“No. Shot selection was awful,” he said. “It was terrible.”
Glynn Watson Jr. scored 17 for Nebraska while Tai Webster added 16 and Shavon Shields 14.
Nebraska used a 17-2 run to go up by 10 points late in the first half and never trailed over the game’s final 28 minutes.
Malcolm Hill led Illinois with 17 points and seven assists. Kendrick Nunn added 15 points.
With 14:05 left in the game and Illinois trying to claw its way back, White drained a 3-pointer that pushed Nebraska out to a 51-39 lead, matching the Cornhuskers’ largest lead of the game to that point.
Nebraska outrebounded the Illini 42-24.
The absence of Thorne and Black has left the Illini short on big bodies, and their disadvantage on the boards has been glaring most of the season. Opponents have outrebounded Illinois 659-569 on the season.
“I felt like we had to win the paint to win the game,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said “Because Thorne’s hurt, they don’t have a rim protector like (former Illinois center Nnanna) Egwu in the old days.”
Illinois’ frustration was obvious Saturday against a Cornhusker team that started no one taller than 6-foot-7.
“I hate to say,” said 6-10 forward Michael Finke, the tallest player on the Illinois roster. “That’s inexcusable.”
He finished with three rebounds and 11 points, nine of them on 3-pointers.
Illinois had closed the Nebraska lead to eight points on a 3-pointer by Nunn with six minutes to play and breathed life into what had been a mostly grumbling crowd.
But at the other end, Nebraska used a pair of offensive boards to turn a pair of misses into a pair of third-chance points from White that pushed the lead back to 10 at 67-57 and quieted the State Farm Center.
Nebraska went on a 17-2 run late in the first half that turned the game, opening up a double-digit lead in what had been a tight, back-and-forth contest.
A pair of free throws from Webster put the Huskers up 33-23 with 4:05 left in the half.
Illinois’ answer at the other was a quick, baseline 3-point attempt by Nunn that missed the basket by at least 3 feet.
“Jack a 3, might as well,” one fan yelled.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have struggled to take care of the ball this season, averaging 13.5 turnovers coming into the game. They were better Saturday, with 10.
Illinois: Nunn, usually a starter when he is healthy, did not start Saturday. Groce said he came off the bench because of an unspecified violation of team rules.