Nebraska 78, Illinois 67
CHAMPAIGN - Despite his bloodlines and a top-100 national ranking, Illinois native Glynn Watson Jr. never received a scholarship offer from the point-guard starved Illini.
The Illini were focused on bigger splashes, mainly Jawun Evans and Jalen Brunson -- who are proving themselves as program-changing point guards.
Watson -- a Westchester St. Joseph’s graduate and former Illini Demetri McCamey’s younger brother-- at least proved on Saturday at the State Farm Center that he was a game-changing Big Ten point guard.
Watson tied a season-high with 17 points to lead Nebraska (11-8, 3-3 Big Ten) to its third straight win and its first win in Champaign since 1921 (nine straight losses prior to Saturday).
Another Illinois native, Chicago Simeon product Ed Morrow, added six points and six rebounds.
Andrew White III lead the Cornhuskers with a double-double (21 points, 13 rebounds), while Tai Webster added 16 points and Shavon Shields had 14 points.
Illinois (9-9, 1-4 Big Ten) cut the lead to 67-61 with under three minute remaining, but Malcolm Hill's wide-open three lipped off the front of the rim and Watson sunk a clutch runner to give Nebraska some breathing room.
Nebraska had huge margins on the Illini in the paint, ourebounding Illinois 42-24 and outscoring the Illini in the paint 34-20. Nebraska shot 54 percent from the field, while the Illini shot 39 percent.
Illinois set a State Farm Center record, attempting 36 three-point attempts. The issue was the Illini made only 11 of them.
Hill led the Illini with 17 points and also tied a career high with seven assists. Kendrick Nunn -- who came off the bench (sitting the first 2:27) -- added 15 on 5-for-14 shooting, while Michael Finke and Jalen Coleman-Lands added 11 each.
Down 21-18, Nebraska went on a 17-2 run in the first half to claim a 35-23 lead and never trailed again. Illinois rattled off a 9-0 second-half run to close it to 53-48 with 11:18 remaining, but the Cornhuskers answered with a 12-3 run of their own.
What it means
The good feelings from an upset of No. 20 Purdue are gone in a game. Illinois failed to protect home court against a similar level -- albeit much-improved -- Nebraska team and missed an opportunity to gain some momentum before a huge challenge at Indiana. Those are the games Illinois has to win to right this season.
What went right
Nothing but moral victories, which should be few and far between in Year Four. Illinois battled back to give themselves a chance, but it's against Nebraska.
Jaylon Tate made a three-point field goal attempt, the third of his career, increasing his career three-point field goal percentage from 5.1 percent to 7.5 percent. Aaron Jordan saw a three go through the net. He entered Saturday’s game 1-for-9 from the field during conference play.
Illinois continues to take care of the ball at a high level, turning it over just six times. Tate and Khalid Lewis combined for a 5-to-0 assist/turnover ratio.
Finke (3-for-8 three) continues to be a matchup problem for whom opposing coaches must game-plan.
What went wrong
The Illini were absolutely crushed in the paint by the small but more athletic Cornhuskers. The Illini were physical in their upset over Purdue, but failed to put bodies on White, Morrow and even the short Webster. Their defense took a step back -- again.
The Illini are a jump-shooting team, but they fell in love with threes way too much. Nebraska entered as the most foul-prone team in the league, and Illinois didn’t take advantage.
The Illini true freshmen were outplayed by Nebraska’s true freshmen.
Mav Morgan added nothing for the Illini off the bench. The backup center was a minus-18 in the first half, while Finke was a plus-10. The coaching staff should ride Finke longer.
Star of the game
Watson: White was a killer, especially in the second half, and Webster made a big impact. But Watson seemed to hit the big shots when Nebraska needed them most.
Illinois heads to Indiana for a 6 p.m. tipoff on Tuesday night. The Hoosiers (15-3, 5-0 Big Ten) are tied for first atop the Big Ten and are 10-0 at home so far this season. Illinois has lost three straight in Bloomington. Indiana ranks No. 26 in the KenPom ratings and, surprisingly, has the Big Ten’s No. 1 defensive efficiency ranking.