The roller-coaster ride that has been Illinois basketball trended in a positive direction Saturday with its first Big Ten Conference win of the season, a 79-69 home victory over then-No. 14 Wisconsin.
The Fighting Illini will try to keep that momentum going Tuesday night when they travel to Lincoln, Neb., for a conference matchup with Nebraska.
In beating Wisconsin, Illinois (10-5, 1-3) got a big, yet efficient performance from Terrence Shannon Jr. The Texas Tech transfer needed just 11 shots to score 24 points, thanks in part to a 9 of 12 day at the foul line.
Shannon’s teammates followed his lead. Coleman Hawkins added 20 points, while Jayden Epps came off the bench to net 15. As a team, the Illini sank 10 of 19 3-pointers, finally taking advantage of a recent switch to a spread offense where all five players work behind the 3-point line.
“That’s how good we can be,” said Illinois coach Brad Underwood. “You can’t get derailed with a distraction or something that goes awry. We got to a point where we weren’t playing very hard, and that’s not our culture.”
Shannon’s 17.6 ppg leads four players in double figures. The Illini have had turnover trouble this season, ranking 330th in Division I at 14.6, but made just 10 on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Nebraska (9-7, 2-3) scored its first Big Ten overtime road win in 22 years Saturday, edging Minnesota 81-79 behind a nice all-around effort by Derrick Walker.
He led the team in points (22), rebounds (eight) and assists (seven). The Cornhuskers shot 50.8 percent from the field and earned a 21-10 advantage in free throw attempts.
“We just came out and kept getting the ball to the right guy, which was Derrick,” said Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg.
Walker is the main man for the Cornhuskers, averaging 14.5 points on 62.4 percent shooting and grabbing a team-high 8.2 rebounds.
–Field Level Media