Champaign, Ill. - Joseph Bertrand scored 17 of his career-high 25 points in the second half, as Illinois rallied for a 59-54 victory over Nebraska Saturday afternoon.
Nebraska (8-7, 0-4 Big Ten) overcame a five-point second half deficit and used an 11-2 run to build a 45-40 lead with 8:48 remaining, but could not hold on down the stretch en route to its fourth straight loss.
The Huskers had a chance to take the lead in the final 1:30, as Nebraska had the ball with the score tied at 54. NU ran a set play for Bo Spencer to go backdoor on a layup, but Nebraska turned the ball over, giving Illinois the ball.
On the ensuing possession, Bertrand drove the lane and got his shot off before running into Toney McCray for a charge, as his basket with 56.4 seconds left gave the Illini the lead for good at 56-54. After McCray missed both free throws, Brandon Ubel gave NU another opportunity as he snared the offensive rebound with 50.1 seconds left.
The Huskers tried to get Spencer a look from 3-point range after a timeout, but his shot hit the rim and Brandon Paul got the long rebound and was intentionally fouled by Brandon Richardson with 21 seconds left. Paul, who finished with 11 points and six rebounds, hit both free throws to give Illinois (14-3, 3-1 Big Ten) some breathing room.
Spencer's 13 points led three Huskers in double figures, as Nebraska shot 50 percent and out-rebounded Illinois, 24-20, but committed a season-high 20 turnovers which led to 17 Fighting Illini points. McCray added 12 while Richardson had 10 points and three steals.
Bertrand carried the Fighting Illini offense, hitting 11-of-12 shots from the field, as Nebraska held Meyers Leonard to just seven points in 24 minutes.
In the first half, the Huskers overcame an early five-point deficit with an 11-0 run keyed by the return of Jorge Brian Diaz, who missed the last five games with a foot injury. The 6-11 junior came off the bench for five quick points, as Nebraska held the Fighting Illini scoreless for a span of 5:38 and built a 13-7 lead after a Richardson layup.
Diaz finished with nine points and three rebounds in 22 minutes, while Dylan Talley had six points in his return before fouling out.
Illinois erased the lead with a 7-1 spurt and eventually built a 22-18 after Tracy Abrams' 3-pointer, but Nebraska closed the half on a 7-0. Richardson started the run with a 3-pointer before McCray's free throw tied the game with 2:26 left in the half. Spencer gave Nebraska the lead going into the locker room, as the senior hit a 3-pointer to put NU up 25-22.
Nebraska got off to a slow start in the second half, as Illinois scored the first six points of the half, as baskets by D.J. Richardson and Bertrand and a Leonard fast break dunk gave the Illini an 28-25 lead and forced a timeout. Spencer's jumper broke the drought and the teams traded baskets.
The Huskers trailed 38-34 before going on an 11-2 run to regain the lead. Baskets by Talley and Diaz tied the score before Diaz found a cutting McCray for a layup to give NU its first lead since the opening minutes of the half at 40-38 Nebraska eventually pushed the lead to 45-40 after a Spencer 3-pointer, but a 3-pointer from Myke Henry and a Leonard dunk tied the score at 45.
Nebraska eventually pushed the lead to 48-45, but Bertrand's 3-point play with 4:47 remaining tied the score at 48. Illinois led 54-52 before Richardson got the second miss of a Bertrand free throw and drew contact to get to the line. The senior hit both free throws to tie the game at 54 with 2:19 left, setting up the final possessions of the game.
The Huskers return to action on Wednesday night, when they host Penn State at the Devaney Center. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and tickets are available for $10 by calling 800-8-BIGRED or visiting Huskers.com.
*-Nebraska's 20 turnovers was its highest total since committing 22 at Kansas State on Feb 2, 2011, and just the second time the Huskers have had 20 or more turnovers in the last 54 games, dating back to the 2009-10 season.
*-Nebraska shot 50 percent against Illinois, the fourth time this year that Nebraska shot at least 50 percent from the floor. The Huskers had won their last 12 games dating back to the start of the 2010-11 season when shooting at least 50 percent prior to today's loss.
*-Nebraska shot 50 percent in today's loss after not shooting better than 36 percent in its first three Big Ten games.
*-Nebraska entered the game leading the Big Ten and ranking fifth nationally in free throw shooting (.772) but shot just 68.4 percent (13-for-19) against Illinois. It marked only the third time this season that Nebraska had shot under 70 percent from the foul line.
*-Joseph Bertrand's 25 points not only was a career high, but matched the highest single-game output against the Huskers this season (also South Dakota State's Griffin Callahan on Nov. 26). His 11-of-12 shooting from the floor is also the best against Nebraska this season with a minimum of five field goal attempts.
*-Bertrand's 25 points was also the highest single-game effort by the Fighting Illini this season (24 by Sam Maniscalco at Maryland on 11/29)
*-Brandon Richardson's 10 point effort marked his second straight game in double figures, the first time that has happened since the opening two games of the season. Richardson also had three steals and now has 10 steals in Nebraska's past two contests.
*-Toney McCray was in double figures for the sixth straight game with 12 points and six rebounds. The six straight games in double figures is the longest of his career
*-Jorge Brian Diaz and Dylan Talley made their first appearances since the TCU game Dec. 10, as both players have missed the last five games with injuries. Diaz finished with nine points, three rebounds and a block, while Talley had six points before fouling out.
*-Nebraska falls to 1-6 all-time at Champaign, as today's game was the Huskers' first in the state of Illinois since 1990.
*-Nebraska had a 24-20 advantage on the glass, the first time in Big Ten play NU had out-rebounded an opponent. Illinois had out-rebounded its last five opponents coming into Saturday's game, including each of the first four in Big Ten action.
*-Nebraska held Meyers Leonard to a season-low seven points, as he also had seven points at Purdue (12/31) and against UNLV (12/17).