The Nebraska men’s basketball team looks to continue its push toward postseason play on Sunday afternoon, as the Huskers visit Champaign to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Tipoff from the State Farm Center is set for 1:30 p.m. (MT) and Sunday’s game will be televised nationally on BTN with Cory Provus and Robbie Hummel on the call. The game is available on BTN.com, BTN2Go and the Fox Sports Go app.
Fans can follow all of the action across the state of Nebraska on the IMG Husker Sports Network with Kent Pavelka and Jake Muhleisen on the call. The game will also be available on Huskers.com, on the Huskers app, on TuneIn Radio and on the TuneIn Radio app. The radio broadcast begins one hour prior to tipoff.
Nebraska (20-8, 11-4 Big Ten) has been on a roll since the first meeting with Illinois back in January. The Huskers are 8-1 in the last nine games which began when James Palmer Jr. hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds to give Nebraska a 64-63 win over the Illini in Lincoln. Nebraska brings a six-game win streak into Sunday’s matchup and a win against the Illinois would give the Huskers their longest conference win streak in 40 years.
Nebraska comes off a crucial 70-66 win against Maryland on Tuesday. While Palmer had 26 points and five assists, Isaiah Roby (11 points, 10 rebounds) and Isaac Copeland (nine points, nine rebounds) helped NU enjoy a 35-31 advantage on the glass. Glynn Watson Jr. added eight points and limited Anthony Cowan to just 3-of-13 shooting, including a crucial block in the final minute.
Palmer is making a strong push for All-Big Ten honors, as the junior guard is second in the Big Ten in scoring at 20.0 points per game in conference games following his 26-point effort against Maryland on Tuesday night. He also leads the Huskers in assists in Big Ten play at 3.4 per game.
The win over Maryland kept the Huskers one game ahead of Michigan in fourth place in the Big Ten standings heading into the final three games of the Big Ten slate. If the Huskers can win on Sunday, the Huskers would match a school record for most conference wins in a season with 12. The only teams to win 12 games in conference play are the 1965-66 (Big Eight) and 1915-16 (Missouri Valley) squads.
Illinois (12-15, 2-12 Big Ten) looks to snap a four-game losing streak after falling 78-68 at Indiana on Wednesday. Leron Black had 20 points and seven rebounds in the loss, while Kipper Nichols came off the bench for 16. Black leads Illinois in both scoring (14.6 ppg) and rebounding (5.5 rpg).
9 – Points that Isaac Copeland needs to reach 1,000 points for his career. Copeland went over 500 career rebounds in Tuesday’s win over Maryland.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
1.25 – Nebraska’s 1.25-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is on track to be one of the best in school history.
5 – Assists that Isaiah Roby needs to become the fourth Husker with 50 blocks and 50 assists in a season. Roby already has 52 blocks on the season, which is nine away from 10th place on NU’s single-season blocks list.
70 – Nebraska is 15-2 when scoring 70 or more points and 5-6 when held to under 70 points. Nebraska’s only two losses when scoring 70+ points was a one-point loss to Kansas and a two-point OT loss at Penn State.
One of three first-year coaches in the Big Ten, Brad Underwood comes to Illinois after coaching stints at Oklahoma State and Stephen F. Austin. Underwood guided Oklahoma State to a 20-13 record and a berth in the NCAA Tournament in his only season in Stillwater. Prior to that, he led Stephen F. Austin to three straight Southland Conference titles and three straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Longtime Husker fans may remember him from his stint as an assistant for six seasons at Kansas State under Bob Huggins and Frank Martin.
The Fighting Illini have enjoyed an up-and-down season, opening the year with six straight wins before three straight losses, including overtime setbacks to Maryland and Northwestern. They also have one of the best non-conference wins with a 70-64 neutral site win over Missouri. Since conference play resumed, Illinois has losing streaks of six and four games sandwiched in between wins over Indiana and Rutgers. Both of Illinois’ wins have been at the State Farm Center. Illinois was short-handed in Tuesday’s loss at Indiana, as Michael Finke (9.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Da’Monte Williams (3.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg) were out with injuries. Junior forward Leron Black leads the team in both scoring (14.6 ppg) and rebounding (5.5 rpg) while freshman Trent Frazier is second on the team in scoring at 12.3 ppg.
The Illini are not afraid to shoot from distance, as they have four players with at least 20 3-pointers led by 45 from Frazier and 40 from Aaron Jordan, who is hitting 48 percent from long range.
Illinois leads the all-time series, 13-7, over Nebraska in a series that dates back to 1921. Nebraska is 5-6 against Illinois since joining the Big Ten. Nebraska looks for its second straight win in the series following the one-point win in Lincoln. NU has won only twice in 11 meetings in Champaign, but it was the last trip as NU scored a 78-67 win in Champaign in 2016. Prior to Nebraska joining the conference, the Huskers and Illini had played only once since 1976 – a 100-73 Husker victory in the 1990 San Juan Shootout.
LAST MEETING VS. ILLINOIS
James Palmer Jr. led Nebraska with 24 points, and none were more important than his game-winning three-pointer with 0.3 seconds left to give Nebraska a 64-63 win over Illinois on Jan. 15.
After Illinois’ Michael Finke converted on a four-point play to give Illinois a 63-61 lead with eight seconds to play, Glynn Watson Jr. took the inbounds pass up the floor and found Palmer on the left wing, who took a dribble and hit an off-balance three to give Nebraska the win as Illinois’ desperation heave was off the mark. Palmer’s bucket was originally ruled a two-pointer on the floor, but after a short review, the officials determined his foot was behind the three-point line. Evan Taylor joined Palmer in double figures with 13 points, as Taylor provided a spark off the bench for NU for the first time after starting the first 19 games of the season. Isaiah Roby chipped in nine points, 10 rebounds and four steals in his first start of the year.
LAST TIME OUT
The Huskers won their sixth straight game Tuesday night with a 70-66 win over Maryland. James Palmer Jr. led the team with 26 points, including 24 in the second half. He also had a team-best five assists. Isaiah Roby added a game-high 10 rebounds and finished with 11 points, while Isaac Copeland added nine points and nine boards.
After trailing 32-30 at the break, Huskers came out hot in the second half, hitting seven of their first nine shots and jumped to a 54-50 lead with under 10 minutes left to play, but Nebraska couldn’t quite finish off the Terrapins, as NU won despite not making a field goal in the final 5:42.
With just over one minute left, Maryland – down by one- had the ball and a chance to take the lead. Watson came up with a big blocked shot that gave the Huskers the ball back, with under 42 seconds. After NU missed on its next possession, Roby got a key offensive rebound and was sent to the line. He sank both free throws to put the Huskers up three with under 20 seconds left to play. Maryland cut NU’s lead back to one with a layup. Glynn Watson was fouled and sent to foul line. He scored his 1,000th career point on the first free throw and swished the second one to put the Huskers up two. Maryland was sent to the line and made one, but Palmer sealed the win with a big rebound and two free throws.
20 WINS AND COUNTING
With Tuesday’s win over Maryland, Nebraska picked up its 20th win of the season. It marked just the sixth time in its 122-year history and first since the 1992-93 season. Only two teams in program history have won more regular-season games than the 2017-18 Huskers.
Nebraska now has 13 20-win seasons in school history, as this marks Nebraska’s first since the 2007-08 campaign. It is the first time Head Coach Tim Miles has enjoyed a 20-win season since the 2011-12 campaign at Colorado State, when his Rams went 20-12 and earned an NCAA Tournament appearance.
ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD
While Nebraska has enjoyed success at Pinnacle Bank Arena with a 14-1 home mark, the Huskers have played well on the road in Big Ten play. NU is 4-4 in Big Ten road games, marking its most road conference wins since 1999. Since WWII, Nebraska has won five conference road games just twice (1965-66 and 1975-76).
If Nebraska wins at Illinois Sunday, it would not only give Nebraska its most conference road wins since going 5-2 in 1976, but match a school record for most consecutive conference road wins.
*-Nebraska is going for its seventh straight conference win on Sunday, which would be the most since the 1977-78 team won seven straight in the Big Eight Conference and match NU’s longest conference win streak since World War II (also 1965-66).
*-Nebraska comes into Sunday’s game with a 20-8 record which is the best 28-game mark since the 1990-91 season when the Huskers were 23-5 after 28 games. The 1990-91 team won a school-record 26 games that season.
*-NU picked up its 11th conference win of the season last Tuesday vs. Maryland, marking just the fifth time that the Huskers have won 11-or-more conference games in a season. Tim Miles is the only coach in school history to have multiple teams win 11 or more conference games.
*-The 2017-18 season marks just the third time in school history that both the Husker men and women have won 10-or-more conference games. The others came in 2013-14 (Big Ten) and 1997-98 (Big 12). The Husker women will be going for win No. 20 on Saturday at Indiana.
*-Nebraska’s defense has been its calling card in Big Ten action. The Huskers are third in field goal defense (.408) in conference play and held 11 of their last 13 opponents under 45 percent. Since Jan. 1, the Huskers are holding opponents to .410 shooting.
*-Nebraska is 14-1 in home games this season with the only loss coming in a one-point setback against then-No. 13 Kansas on Dec. 16. The 13 home wins is already NU’s highest total since going 15-1 at Pinnacle Bank Arena in the 2013-14 campaign. Nebraska’s last two games are at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Nebraska also has a Big Ten-leading nine game home win streak dating back to Dec. 20.
*-Of Nebraska’s five losses dating back to Dec. 9, NU lost twice in the last 30 seconds (vs. No. 13 Kansas, at PSU) and had two others where NU was within a point in the last four minutes (at Creighton, at No. 13 OSU).
*-The Huskers are averaging 73.6 points per game and is on track for one of the best offensive seasons in recent years. NU’s 73.6 points per game is NU’s best average through the first 28 games since 1995-96.
*-Nebraska’s 98 points against Iowa marked the Huskers’ highest total in a conference game since scoring 99 against Kansas State on Feb. 9, 2002.
*-Nebraska’s biggest offensive strength has been a balanced attack with three players averaging double figures, led by James Palmer Jr., who averages a team-high 17.9 points per game to lead all Big Ten newcomers in scoring. Palmer is currently on track to enjoy one of the top first-year seasons in school history, as the top three first-year scorers have been in Tim Miles’ six seasons at Nebraska.
*-Palmer has shown the ability to get to the foul line, as he leads the Big Ten with 194 attempts through Wednesday’s games. Maryland’s Anthony Cowan Jr. is second with 169. Palmer now ranks sixth on NU’s single-season free throws made list with 146, and has the potential to move into the top five (Aleks Maric, 147, 2006-07) on Sunday.
*-Palmer Jr. is averaging 20.0 points per game in Big Ten play, and is on track to be the first Husker to average at least 20 points per game in conference play since current Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue averaged 21.8 points per game in 1997-98.
*-Nebraska relies on a pair of transfers in James Palmer Jr. (Miami) and Isaac Copeland (Georgetown), as the duo combines for more than 30 points per game. In all, 48.1 percent of the Huskers’ offense this year has been by players in their first year in the program.
*-Nebraska’s 11-point deficit at Wisconsin on Jan. 29 was its largest comeback of the season (previous high was seven at Northwestern on Jan. 2) and the seventh time under Tim Miles that Nebraska has overcome a 10-point deficit. Over the past two years, NU has won three road games while overcoming a double-digit deficit, matching NU’s total from the previous 20 years.
*-Palmer enjoyed one of the most prolific scoring performances in school history at No. 13 Ohio State on Jan. 22 with his 34-point effort against the Buckeyes. It marked the second-highest scoring effort in a road game in school history and the most on the road by a Husker since 2006.
*-Duby Okeke ranks 10th among all active Division I players with 191 career blocked shots. Okeke had a season-high four blocked shots against Rutgers on Feb. 10.