Joseph Bertrand scored 17 of his career-high 25 points in the second half, as Illinois rallied for a 59-54 victory over Nebraska Saturday afternoon.
Nebraska (8-7, 0-4 Big Ten) overcame a five-point second half deficit and used an 11-2 run to build a 45-40 lead with 8:48 remaining, but could not hold on down the stretch en route to its fourth straight loss.
The Huskers had a chance to take the lead in the final 1:30, as Nebraska had the ball with the score tied at 54. NU tried ran a set play for Bo Spencer to go backdoor on a layup, but Nebraska turned the ball over, giving Illinois the ball.
On the ensuing possession, Bertrand drove the lane and got the shot off before running into McCray for a charge, as his basket with 56.4 seconds left gave the Illini the lead for good at 56-54. After McCray missed both free throws from the line, Brandon Ubel gave NU another opportunity as he snared the offensive rebound with 50.1 seconds left.
The Huskers tried to get Spencer a look from 3-point range after the timeout, but his shot hit the rim and Brandon Paul got the long rebound and was intentionally fouled by Brandon Richardson with 21 seconds left. Paul, who finished with 11 points and six rebounds, hit both free throws to give Illinois (14-3, 3-1 Big Ten) some breathing room.
Spencer's 13 points led three Huskers in double figures, as Nebraska shot 50 percent and out-rebounded Illinois, 24-20, but committed a season-high 20 turnovers which led to 17 Fighting Illini points. Toney McCray added 12 while Brandon Richardson had 10 points and three steals.
Bertrand carried the Fighting Illini offense, hitting 11-of-12 shots from the field, as Nebraska held Meyers Leonard to just seven points in 24 minutes.
In the first half, the Huskers overcame an early five-point deficit with an 11-0 run keyed by the return of Jorge Brian Diaz, who missed the last five games with a foot injury. The 6-11 junior came off the bench for five quick points, as Nebraska held the Fighting Illini scoreless for a span of 5:38 and built a 13-7 lead after a Brandon Richardson layup.
Diaz finished with nine points and three rebounds in 22 minutes, while Dylan Talley had six points before fouling out.
Illinois chipped at the lead and led 22-18 after Tracy Abrams' 3-pointer, but Nebraska closed the half on a 7-0 as Richardson answered with a 3-pointer of his own before McCray's free throw tied the game with 2:26 left in the half. Spencer gave Nebraska the lead going into the locker room, as the senior hit a 3-pointer to put NU up 25-22.
Nebraska got off to a slow start in the second half, as Illinois scored the first six points of the half, as baskets by D.J. Richardson and Bertrand and a Leonard fast break dunk gave the Illini an 28-25 lead and forced a timeout. Spencer's jumper broke the drought and the teams traded baskets.
The Huskers trailed 38-34 before going on an 11-2 run to take its first lead since the start of the half. Baskets by Talley and Diaz tied the score before Diaz found a cutting McCray for a layup to give NU its first lead since the opening minutes of the half. Nebraska eventually pushed the lead to 45-40 after a Spencer 3-pointer, but a 3-pointer from Myke Henry and a Leonard dunk tied the score at 45.
Nebraska eventually pushed the lead to 48-45, but Bertrand's 3-point play with 4:47 remaining tied the score at 48. Illinois eventually led 54-52 before Richardson got the second miss of a Bertrand free throw and drew contact to get to the line. The senior hit both free throws to tie the game at 54 with 2:19 left, setting up the final possessions of the game.
The Huskers return to action on Wednesday night, when they host Penn State at the Devaney Center. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and tickets are available for $10 by calling 800-8-BIGRED or visiting Huskers.com.
Courtesy: NU Media Relations