When it mattered most, Nebraska turned once again to Terran Petteway. The junior guard didn’t disappoint as he helped Nebraska even its mark in Big Ten play through four games after defeating Illinois on Sunday night.
Petteway finished with a game-high 18 points and hit double figures for the 27th consecutive game as the Huskers held off the Illini 53-43 to move to 10-6 overall and 2-2 in league play. Nebraska held Rutgers to 49 points in a win on Thursday night and used tough defense once again to stifle Illinois, as the Illini shot just 27.3 percent from the floor and made only 6-of-29 three-point attempts in failing to keep momentum from an upset of Maryland earlier in the week.
“I mean you can’t play much better defense than what we did. We weren’t awful turning the ball over, and we were shooting at a decent percentage,” Nebraska head coach Tim Miles said. “It was just one of those nights.”
“I was very proud of our guys. I thought they played extremely hard and stayed with it.”
The Huskers (10-6, 2-2) held a 28-22 lead at halftime as Shavon Shields scored seven first half points as Illinois connected on only 28 percent of their shots from the floor. The Illini settled for the three-point shot throughout the game and particularly in the first half, making only 3-of-17 attempts. Nebraska led by as many as seven in the first half and couldn’t shake the Illini until the final moments of the game when they salted it away at the free throw line. Petteway was a mere 2-of-6 from the field in the first half, but took control in the second half to help Nebraska get the victory.
It’s a stark change from less than a week ago for the Huskers, who were sitting at 0-2 to start Big Ten play after a 70-59 loss at Iowa last Monday. Shields says the team has responded and looked like a new squad, especially with the returns of Moses Abraham and Leslee Smith to the lineup.
“Day and night. It is a big difference from losing to winning. I think there is a lot of confidence in the locker room. We just need to keep building off that.”
Shields cracked double figures once again with 11 points and eight rebounds, while David Rivers had a solid night with eight points and seven rebounds to lead a balanced scoring effort behind Petteway. The Huskers were also able to outrebound Illinois to the tune of 38-30, improving on their last outing against Rutgers in which the Scarlet Knights held a 39-31 advantage. The Huskers shot just 42.9% from the floor and made 6-of-17 from three-point range, with Petteway making four of Nebraska’s three-pointers in addition to one from Shields and one from Walter Pitchford.
Illinois head coach John Groce thought his team’s effort matched that from the Illini’s 64-57 upset win over Maryland last Wednesday, but the shots just wouldn’t fall against Nebraska’s tough defense.
“I thought the carryover was identical. I thought our effort was tremendous and our focus and concentration and scouting was tremendous,” Groce said. “We just didn’t make shots tonight and ran into a very-very good defensive ball club.”
“I think they clamped down a little bit more in the second half and we ran out of gas.”
Petteway’s second three-pointer of the second half stretched Nebraska’s lead to 34-24 with 16:50 left to play, but Illinois wouldn’t go away quite yet. A jumper from Petteway extended the lead to 40-29, but the Illini answered with a three-pointer from Aaron Cosby to trim the lead to 40-32 with 10:42 remaining and Maverick Morgan’s put back made it a 40-34 game with 9:50 remaining. Shields answered with a jumper and the teams traded baskets until Petteway’s final three-pointer put the Huskers ahead 49-38 with 3:29 to play. Shields and Petteway added two free throws apiece for the final points to cap off Nebraska’s second-straight victory.
Nebraska’s defensive effort was its best in terms of field goal percentage since it allowed Grambling State to connect on 25 percent of their field goal attempts in a 79-39 Nebraska rout back on December 21, 2010. It’s the lowest percentage an opposing team has shot against the Huskers since Tim Miles arrived in Lincoln three seasons ago.
Perhaps no one has played more efficiently than Rivers, who finished 4-of-6 from the field in addition to one assist. The addition of Abraham and Smith to the lineup has helped the senior forward stay out of foul trouble after fouling out against both Indiana and Iowa to start conference play. Rivers says the team defense has continued to evolve for the Huskers.
“I think our screen and roll defense was good tonight and that was something we were working on. That was a big key for us coming into this game. Screen and roll defense.
After the game, Avery Harriman, the seven-year-old son of Nebraska assistant Chris Harriman, joined Rivers and Shavon Shields at Nebraska’s post-game press conference. Avery, who has been battling leukemia, had good news this week with no evidence of cancer in his second biopsy. Avery was very happy with Nebraska’s victory.
“My favorite play was the players doing great. They did super awesome on the game–on the game tonight. I am so proud of them,” Avery said.
“I was shooting my free throws at the end of the game, and I heard Avery saying ‘come on Shavon!,’ That was my favorite,” Shields said. “Ecstatic that he is cancer free and we can go play golf this summer again, it is going to be awesome.”
Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn led Illinois (11-6, 1-3) with 12 points apiece, with Aaron Cosby adding seven points in the losing effort. Nebraska plays next at Wisconsin on Thursday night at 8 p.m., with the fifth-ranked Badgers fresh off a 67-62 upset loss to Rutgers. The Huskers’ next game at home is on January 20 against Minnesota with Michigan State coming to the Pinnacle Bank Arena on January 24. Illinois will look to rebound against Northwestern on Wednesday night in Evanston.