For No. 5 Illinois, Tuesday’s 81-72 loss at Michigan State lent itself to introspection.
While the brooding didn’t last long, it was introspection just the same.
“This game doesn’t define us,” Fighting Illini guard Trent Frazier said. “We’ve just got to learn from this.”
Illinois (16-6, 12-4 Big Ten) aims to rebound from a defeat that snapped its seven-game winning streak when struggling Nebraska visits Champaign on Thursday night.
While the Cornhuskers (5-16, 1-13 Big Ten) managed to end their 25-game conference losing streak this month – 26 if you count a conference tournament loss to Indiana – they have lost four league games in a row. The latest was an 86-83 setback to visiting Penn State on Tuesday.
Teddy Allen enjoyed a monster night against the Nittany Lions, contributing a career-high 41 points to go with eight rebounds and six assists. Allen finished 16-for-24 from the floor amid the second-highest individual scoring output in Cornhuskers’ program history.
And yet …
“Don’t mean nothing,” Allen said. “We came up short.”
Frazier might have said the same about his team-best 22 points against Michigan State. Ditto for Ayo Dosunmu, who had 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists but shot just 6-for-18 from the floor.
Illinois coach Brad Underwood called the game “one of those nights” for which his team was due.
“I’m not that disappointed; I’m not. I’m actually in a good place,” he said.
While Illinois hasn’t won at Michigan State since 2015, the Fighting Illini remain far more adept on their own home floor. Illinois is 10-2 at State Farm Center this season entering its home finale, winning four straight since falling 87-81 to then-No. 21 Ohio State on Jan. 16.
Underwood and players stressed that the challenge they received from Michigan State can bolster Illinois for the stretch run.
“It’s a team that, even though they’ve had some ups and downs this year by their standards, which are extremely high, this is a team that’s playing extremely hard,” Underwood said of the Spartans. “They are continuing to play for Tom (Izzo), which they always will. His culture is so ingrained. A team that’s playing better offensively and defensively both. … They play as hard as anybody in the league. They’re as physical as anybody in the league, and we’ve got to match that.”
Nebraska shot 53.6 percent from the floor against Penn State while drilling 12 3-pointers, its second-highest total of the season. However, the Nittany Lions still prevailed.
“The toughness plays, the 50/50 balls, they got most of them, especially in the first half,” Cornhuskers coach Fred Hoiberg said.
Despite leading the then-No. 6 Fighting Illini by five points with less than four minutes left in regulation on Feb. 12, the Cornhuskers were unable to close the game out. Illinois posted a 77-72 win in overtime.
Dosunmu scored 22 of his 31 points in the second half, while Lat Mayen paced Nebraska with 16 points.
Illinois boasts a three-game winning streak against Nebraska and leads the all-time series 17-8. The Fighting Illini have won 12 of the 14 meetings in Champaign.
–Field Level Media