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Player of the game: David Rivers – For the second straight game, we didn’t go with the leading scorer or the leading rebounder. The senior scored 8 points and snagged 7 rebounds in 33 minutes of play, coming up big on the defensive side of the floor as well against a very athletic Illinois squad.
The moment it was over: With the Huskers up eight, Illinois guard Malcom Hill missed back-to-back three-pointers on two straight possessions around the 2-minute mark.
LINCOLN, Neb. - Nebraska fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena weren’t rewarded with Runza’s on Sundy night. Instead, the reward was getting to see a great defensive performance by Tim Miles’ squad.
Yes – a great defensive performance.
The casual observer might sit at the water cooler on Monday morning complaining, saying the Huskers' 10-point win over the Illini was boring and bad basketball.
Too often, an entire game is labeled by the offensive output. It's just one half of the contest.
According to the Nebraska Media Relations Department, the 27.3 percent shooting by Illinois on Sunday night was the lowest by a conference opponent since Kansas State shot 23.4 percent in 2006.
“A big part of our offensive struggles--Nebraska deserves a lot of credit,” said Illinois head coach John Groce. “I thought they were very difficult to score on."
Groce, a former desired head coach by many Nebraska fans in 2012, continued…
”I think some of the things Nebraska does well is protecting the paint, not just tonight, all you have to do is watch the tape and see their statistics, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out”
It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out Nebraska has some deficiencies on the offensive side of the floor through 16 games. The Huskers are just No. 208 in the country in points scored per game (66.7).
After four games in the Big Ten, Nebraska is 10-6 overall. Miles would be much happier around 12-4. The reality, without their top 25 defense, they would be closer to 8-8. Maybe even below .500.
Defense isn’t sexy, but it wins games.
"It was great,” said forward Shavon Shields. “Coach Miles, one of his things is seeing five guys rotating at the same time, all on the same page. I felt that we were like that for the most part. We gave up a couple offensive rebounds and a couple of easy shots, but we did great other than that."
Nebraska won by 10-points on Sunday night – relatively a close game the entire contest. But, 10 points also equaled a total of 23 percent of the Fighting Illini's offense.
The Huskers’ offensive struggles continued against Illinois – but things are getting better. The combination of Shields and Terran Petteway combined for nine assists on Sunday. It’s the second straight game Nebraska has received a decent contribution of offense from guys other than their star pair.
”I think that just shows the mindset of the team,” said Miles. “We trust each other. We move the ball for each other. I thought that was really critical.”
Nebraska will play Wisconsin (15-2) on Wednesday night in Madison. Expect a focused and just down-right upset Badger team - Ryan’s squad was upset by Rutgers on Sunday night.
”The whole month of January in college basketball is like hump day,” said Miles. “There’s no light at the end of the tunnel.”
* Sophomore guard Tai Webster and redshirt freshman forward Nick Fuller did not play on Sunday night. It’s our opinion Illinois wasn’t a great matchup Fuller. With Webster, it’s the emergence of Tarin Smith. Head coach Tim Miles said they need to be ready to play at a moment’s whim, but it was coach’s decision tonight.
* Speaking of Smith, the true freshman grabbed a career-high 5 rebounds in 20 minutes, scoring 5 points and blocking two shots. He’s making it hard for Miles to give Webster minutes over him.