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After rocky first half, Illinois cleans up to down Nebraska

Jan 10, 2023; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA;  Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Keisei Tominaga (30) scores over Illinois Fighting Illini guard Jayden Epps (3) in the first half at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Terrence Shannon Jr. notched 25 points and 11 rebounds on Tuesday night to lead Illinois to its second straight Big Ten Conference win, a 76-50 decision over Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb.

Shannon scored 17 points in a first half marked by sloppy play and constant fouling by both teams. He got help from Coleman Hawkins, who was 5 of 9 from the floor and added 12 points. Jayden Epps chipped in 11 points, while RJ Melendez and Matthew Mayer each tallied 10 for the Fighting Illini, who improved to 11-5 overall and 2-3 in the conference.

Sam Griesel scored 12 points, and Wilheim Breidenbach came off the bench to add 11 for the Cornhuskers (9-8, 2-4). But leading scorer Derrick Walker, like a handful of others in the first half, found himself in foul trouble and sat out the last 13 minutes of the period with two fouls. He wasn’t particularly effective in his second half, either, and finished with just five points in 19 minutes.

The big spurt came early in the second half after Nebraska scored the first six points to slice Illinois’ lead to five. After coach Brad Underwood used a timeout, the Illini went on a 14-2 run in four minutes, with Melendez canning a jumper with 13:57 left to give Illinois a 48-31 advantage.

Aside from Shannon’s performance, the first half wasn’t much to see, unless one likes whistles. The teams combined for 24 fouls and nine players were tagged with at least two. Breidenbach was saddled with three fouls.

The stop-and-start nature of the game hurt both teams’ attempts to establish an offensive rhythm. At the second TV timeout, the score was 10-7 Illinois. The Cornhuskers didn’t reach double figures until Keisei Tominaga converted in transition to pull them within 14-11 with 8:39 left in the first half.

Shannon changed the half’s trajectory shortly after that. He tallied 10 points in a 5:07 stretch to give the Illini separation, nailing consecutive 3-pointers to end his run. That helped Illinois get to the break with a 34-23 advantage.

–Field Level Media