The Big Ten was supposed to have an off night, but after Illinois and Michigan postponed their game on Thursday night, the league decided to schedule a matchup between the Illini on Nebraska on Friday evening. It ended up being a nail biter.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night:
-No. 6 Illinois Fighting Illini 77, Nebraska Cornhuskers 72 (OT)
Heading into tip, this felt like a bit of a sleeper matchup. Illinois entered the game as a significant favorite and was expected to cruise to an easy win against an overmatched Husker squad. I even wrote the following in Friday’s preview:
The spread listed above probably tells you about all you need to know how the experts feel this game is going to unfold. Illinois enters this game with momentum and a clear talent advantage over the Huskers. While the Illini are ranked in the top 10 nationally and are coming off four straight wins, Nebraska is still winless in league play.
All of that suggests this will be a game with little intrigue.
However, this is college basketball, where the unexpected becomes reality.
. . .
Still, it’s hard to go with Nebraska here. This feels like a game where Illinois will put in a good day’s work and cruise to a win. We’ll see if the Huskers can do enough to keep things interesting. An upset here would be pretty shocking.
My general prediction ended up being wrong, but my thoughts about the unexpected certainly showed up on Friday night because the game was not only close, Nebraska was in control in the closing seconds and only narrowly fell in overtime. It took 31 points, six assists, and three rebounds from Ayo Dosunmu to survive.
For Illinois, the key takeaway here is the team survived. While Nebraska isn’t nearly as bad as many suggest, there’s little debating this would have been a crushing loss for the Illini. Not only because it would have snapped a five-game winning streak and done some major damage to the team’s NCAA hopes, but it also would have meant another loss in the conference standings. It’s hard to imagine Illinois losing to Nebraska and still finding a path to this year’s Big Ten title. All told, a win is still a win.
Conversely, you have to feel for Nebraska and Husker fans here. The team played its best game of the year and was a bucket or two away from winning its first conference game of the season against a top 10 opponent. It would have been a huge morale boost to the program in what feels like a lost year. Instead, the team will have to lick its wounds and prepare for one of the most brutal stretches in Big Ten regular season history, playing four games by next Saturday to make up some of the COVID-19 cancellations.
Illinois will prepare for Northwestern at home next Tuesday. Nebraska will go on the road to face Penn State on Sunday.