Lincoln - Bo Spencer's 27-point effort paced three Huskers in double figures, as Nebraska put together its best performance of the season with an 80-57 win over Illinois Saturday afternoon at the Devaney Center.
Spencer, a senior guard from Baton Rouge, La., went 9-of-11 from the floor, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range, as Nebraska used a 43-7 surge to overcome an early deficit and snap a four-game losing streak.
Caleb Walker had 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, five rebounds and a career high four steals, while Brandon Richardson added 12 points and six assists, as Nebraska (12-13, 4-10 Big Ten) shot 56 percent from the field and 10-of-20 from long range.
Nebraska trailed 24-16 after a Meyers Leonard basket with 8:35 left in the first half, but took control from that point. Spencer's two 3-pointer keyed a 14-0 Husker run, as Nebraska took the lead for good at 25-24 after a steal and dunk by Walker. Nebraska eventually led 30-24 before D.J Richardson's jumper snapped a 7:22 scoreless stretch for the visitors. Brandon Richardson then extended the Huskers' lead to 33-26 with a 3-pointer of his own on the next possession, as Nebraska closed the half on a 17-2 run.
The Huskers kept the pressure on in the opening minutes of the second half, using a 19-2 run to build a 24-point lead. Toney McCray scored all eight of his points in the first 5:26 of the second half as the Huskers led 52-28 after a 3-pointer from Mike Fox and never trailed by less than 20 points the remainder of the afternoon.
D.J. Richardson led Illinois (16-11, 5-9 Big Ten) with 13 points while Tracy Abrams had 11 in a losing effort.
Illinois was on target early, hitting seven of its first nine shots from the floor to build a 16-7 lead before Nebraska's defense clamped down, holding Illinois to four of 12 shooting over the final 14 minutes of the first half.
The Huskers return to action on Wednesday evening, as they travel to Purdue. Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m. (central) and will be carried on the Huskers Sports Network and Huskers.com, as well as televised on the Big Ten Network.
*-Nebraska's 23-point margin of victory was Nebraska's largest in conference play since a 72-44 win over No. 25 Texas Tech on Feb. 24, 2004. NU's previous largest winning margin in conference play under Sadler was 22 against Kansas State on Jan. 17, 2009.
*-Nebraska's 80 points was its second-highest total of the year and most since scoring 83 against Rhode Island on Nov. 20, 2011. Nebraska is 2-0 this season when scoring 80 points and 21-2 in Sadler's six seasons at Nebraska.
*-Nebraska held Illinois to 39.6 shooting, its best field goal defense performance since holding Wisconsin to 31 percent in Madison on Jan. 1.
*-Bo Spencer recorded his seventh 20-point game of the year with 27 points on 9-of-11 shooting against Illinois. He now has 21 career games with at least 20 points. Spencer's 27-point effort was two off his career high.
*-Nebraska had only 10 turnovers in today's win after committing 20 in the first matchup in January.
*-Caleb Walker's four steals is a career best (3 vs. Colorado on Jan. 18, 2011; vs. Texas A&M on Jan. 29, 2011). His previous season high was two at Ohio State on Jan. 3. Walker reached double figures for the second straight game with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
*-Nebraska shot 55.6 percent from the floor, its second-best night of the season and best in Big Ten play.
*-Brandon Richardson had six assists in today's win, the sixth time in Big Ten play he has had at least five assists.
*-Nebraska improves to 3-8 all-time against Illinois and picks up its first win in Lincoln against the Fighting Illini. NU had lost the previous two games in Lincoln (1945, 1975).
*-Nebraska's 32-point second-half lead at 68-36 with 6:59 remaining was Nebraska's largest lead at any point of the season. Nebraska's largest lead before today was 30 points against Rhode Island.
*-Nebraska went 10-of-20 from 3-point range, matching the team's best shooting night of the season (also hit 50 percent against South Dakota on Nov. 11, 2011). NU's 10 3-pointers was the third time this season with at least 10 3-pointers.
*-Mike Fox tied his career high with five points (also vs. Central Michigan on Dec. 17, 2011).
*-Jordan Tyrance and Kye Kurkowski both saw their first career action as Huskers today.
Head Coach Doc Sadler
"I can't say enough about how proud I am of our team. Obviously, it's easy to be in my position knowing that you've coached a lot of basketball games and you're going to get a chance to coach a lot more basketball games, but when you're a senior and you've got five games left and things have been as tough as it has been for them, you hurt for them. You hurt for them. But to know that they are continuing to give every bit of effort that they've got makes me proud because I knew without it what kind of character and what kind of guys they are. It's not easy, and they went out there and proved that they do have something that means a lot to them on the back of their jersey. That's what we talked about today in pregame. We're always going to play for Nebraska, but we're to the point right now where you better play for the name on the back of the jersey, too, because it should mean an awful lot to you. I've very proud of them."
On the way they played compared to the last four games
"I don't want to say that we played much different. The difference is we made a lot of shots, a lot of shots. When shots go down, you probably think you played a lot better than you did. Give our guys credit for making shots."
On what changed after falling behind by 9 points in the first half
"They made two 3's that we didn't mind. It was guys that, especially (Tracy) Abrams, that we were going to let that happen. Probably when we switched to the zone that helped a little bit, maybe got them out of rhythm. More than anything, they probably missed a lot of shots that they normally don't miss. Unlike at their place where we had a lot of unforced turnovers, we took care of the basketball. The first half, the biggest stat of all of them was that the basketball got into the lane seven times. And that's the way we play. We probably had as hard of a pre-practice as we've had in a couple years. The whole emphasis was for five years that this program has either been at the top or near the top of every defensive category, and the last few games that hasn't been the case. We're going to get back to being that team that, not just that these guys deserve, but the first team I had when I was here, the second team, they deserve it. It was something that we committed ourselves to."
Nebraska Guard Bo Spencer
"We came out playing well after a tough week of practice. Coach (Sadler) was pretty hard on us, so we went out and paid a lot of attention to detail. We wanted to defend and finish up this season (in the right way). In these last five games, we want to play as hard as we can, and that's what we did tonight."
On what was going through their heads as they were up by 30 points
"I was just happy for the team. I was glad to see all the fans that came out to support us. We wanted to play hard, and we saw it on the scoreboard."
On if it feels like a weight was lifted off his shoulders when all the shots were going in
"It is good to have them fall in. We just have to keep it going. It was great to have a win, but after today it is over. We have to get right back in the gym and keep doing what we have been doing in practices."
On what it was like to see a win today
"It was extremely fun, just to see everyone happy, including Coach. To see the fans happy and cheering was extremely fun. Playing as a team was the best part."
Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber
"The game did not start the way it finished. We probably played as well as we have early. We had a nine-point lead, I think. We're playing with very good spirit and good energy. They went zone, and I think we scored the first two times against the zone, and then we got a little stagnate, turned it over and they got going and it didn't stop. They made every shot. I've played in games before where it happens. I've had great teams in top leagues get beat like that. I knew (Nebraska would) come loose and free. (Bo) Spencer, when he gets going, he's tough to deal with. I told the kids after that I'm still very proud of them. They didn't quit. They really, really care. There are lots of tears in our locker room. The weight of the world - once they made the run, I think the weight of the world kind of caved in on our guys and there was no stopping. Our kids kept fighting and battling and didn't quit. It's just one of those days. Now we have five games left, and I'm going to come back and have some spirit like they have all year. If you were at practice yesterday, they practiced like it was the first day of the year. I promise you no one has quit in that locker room.
On what the zone did
"I thought we got stagnate. We kept talking about getting it up to the defense. You got to attack it and make them guard you. It helped to get Meyers the ball and when he did get it they were going two-three at a time. I thought he did a good job of passing out early and got some shots. We made some shots early. We didn't make shots in that stretch and they did. Even at half, we told them we were at about the same spot that we were at our place. Obviously they had a different mindset and they got going."