Leron Black scored a career-high 28 points on Sunday, including consecutive buckets to put Illinois ahead to stay, as he led it to a 72-66 Big Ten upset of Nebraska at State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill.
Black’s jumpers gave the Fighting Illini (13-15, 3-12) a 67-64 lead and this time, unlike a handful of other conference losses, they protected the lead. Trent Frazier canned two foul shots with 18.3 seconds left for a four-point margin, and fellow freshman Mark Smith added two free throws with 7.5 ticks remaining to seal it.
Frazier and Kipper Nichols each added 12 points for Illinois, which outrebounded the Cornhuskers 38-29 and committed just eight turnovers.
Isaac Copeland scored 17 points to lead Nebraska (20-9, 11-5), which saw its NCAA Tournament at-large hopes take a hit with the defeat. Isaiah Roby added 14 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double, and James Palmer Jr. contributed 13 points.
The Cornhuskers rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit, establishing a 52-47 lead when Palmer converted a layup. But Nebraska went scoreless for the next 5:35, enabling the Illini to regain some traction and give them a chance to reverse a season-long script of near-misses in Big Ten games.
Black finished 11-of-18 from the floor, including 3-of-4 on 3-pointers. Illinois shot 43.5 percent from the field and made 9 of 21 from 3-point range. The Cornhuskers shot 43.4 percent and were 10 of 26 from long range.
After Nebraska opened the scoring with a 3-pointer from Copeland, Illinois responded with 11 consecutive points. Black capped the run with one of his three first half 3-pointers for an eight-point lead just 3:32 into the game.
That was the first half’s theme — the Fighting Illini hitting 3s against the conference’s best defense on 3-point attempts. The Cornhuskers closed within 23-22 on a 3-pointer by Roby with 9:14 left in the half, but Illinois immediately answered with 10 straight points, Nichols making it 33-22 with a 3 and a jumper with 6:30 remaining.
The Illini finished 7-of-9 from distance in the half and maintained a 10-point margin until an Anton Gill 3 with 26 seconds left drew Nebraska within 43-36 at intermission.
—Field Level Media