MBB: Huskers set to host Illini as team looks to “click” together

Photo by Pat Radigan

Husker Isaiah Roby will be a key component in NU’s front court with the future of Jordy Tshimanga still undecided.

Story by Becca Mann

Nebraska hoping to keep Illini winless in Big Ten play

After spending the past three of four conference games on the road, the Nebraska men’s basketball team (12-7 overall, 3-3 Big Ten) returns home Monday night to host Illinois (10-8, 0-5) in its seventh conference game of the season.

The Huskers are coming off a 76-74 overtime loss against Penn State on Friday night. NU was without sophomore starter Jordy Tshimanga who has not practiced since returning to Lincoln. Coach Tim Miles said Sunday he is unsure of Tshimanga’s future with the team. Senior Duby Okeke filled in as a starter on Friday, recording one block, as well as a foul, in his 12 minutes of play.

NU vs. Illinois

Huskers hope to bounce back at home after last-second OT loss to Penn State.

Tshimanga’s absence marked the first time this season Nebraska has used an alternate starting lineup. Purdue is the only remaining Big Ten team to use the same starters in every game this season.

Leading Nebraska in the match up were juniors Glynn Watson Jr. and Isaac Copeland, who scored 21 points each. Watson, who finally worked his way out of a recent slump on the court, added five rebounds and a pair of assists in his breakout performance. Sophomore forward Isaiah Roby contributed a season-high 12 points and added six rebounds, three assists and two blocks.

The Huskers trailed by 16 heading into halftime in Happy Valley, then rallied back to force their first overtime game of the season. A Penn State basket with 2.7 seconds left in the extra period sealed NU’s fate and dropped the team back down to .500 in the conference.

“I think everyone is just a bit frustrated because that was a big game for us,” Roby said Sunday. “We didn’t come out playing like it was that important. We had a slow start and played really good to get back into it and go to overtime, but we’re not a good enough team right now to come out slow and still be able to beat a team like Penn State.”

The Illini come to Lincoln winless in the Big Ten, including a three-game losing streak against Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa. Illinois is coming off an overtime loss, a 104-97 match against Iowa that saw the Illini blow a 20-point, first-half lead.

The teams last faced off in February of the 2017-18 season, which resulted in a 73-57 loss for the Huskers. Nebraska was led by then-senior Tai Webster who recorded 17 points and five assists. Watson chipped in three points and three assists and guard Evan Taylor added nine points of his own.

Illinois looks to a young roster with two true freshmen in its starting lineup. Coach Brad Underwood is in his first year leading Illinois and comes to Lincoln for the first time since 2011 when he was an assistant coach with Kansas State. Underwood’s team utilizes a high-pressure defense to speed up play and force opponent mistakes. This combined with a high-post spread will require Nebraska be aware of back screens and stay focused on making Illinois lengthen its possessions.

Miles said Sunday the team hasn’t clicked together how it needs to, and that is something he hopes will happen soon. Following Illinois, the Huskers host Michigan on Thursday before hitting the road to take on Ohio State and Rutgers.

Monday will also be an opportunity for a group of Huskers to face off against their home-state school.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Roby said. “To beat those guys, that would be pretty good.”

Roby, Watson and freshman Nana Akenten all hail from Illinois.

Monday’s tip is set for 8 p.m. and will be televised on BTN and available on BTN2Go and Fox Sports Go, and can be heard on Husker Sports Network, Huskers.com or the Huskers App.

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