Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers Pick & Prediction MARCH 16th 2024

Nebraska is one victory away from playing in the Big Ten tournament championship game for the first time.

Cornhuskers coach Fred Hoiberg took it one step further.

“If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time Nebraska has ever been in the semifinal in the Big Ten tournament,” Hoiberg said.

That also is true. Now the third-seeded Cornhuskers (23-9) have a chance for a breakthrough when they face second-seeded Illinois (24-8) on Saturday afternoon in the tournament semifinals at Minneapolis.

Nebraska was just 5-12 in Big Ten tournament play before rolling to a 93-66 victory over sixth-seeded Indiana in Friday night’s late quarterfinal game. The Fighting Illini, ranked No. 13 in the country, moved on earlier with a 77-74 comeback victory over 10th-seeded Ohio State.

Nebraska and Illinois have met once this season, with host Illinois recording an 87-84 overtime victory on Feb. 4. Coleman Hawkins scored 20 points for the Illini while Keisei Tominaga put up a career-high 31 points for Nebraska.

“We’re playing a helluva team (Saturday) in Illinois, who gives you matchups problems all over the floor,” Hoiberg said. “And when you play this late game and you’ve got to bounce back and play at 2:30 (p.m. CDT), it’s hard. It’s really, really hard.

“But that’s what this time of year is all about. You’ve got to get ready, move on to the next one, and hopefully go out and play inspired basketball again.”

Tominaga and Brice Williams each had 23 points and four 3-pointers in the victory over the Hoosiers on Friday. Overall, Nebraska was 14 of 32 (43.8 percent) from behind the arc while winning for the seventh time in the past eight games.

“It’s kind of taking what the defense gives you,” Williams said. “Both of us are pretty good shooters, I’d like to think. If they want to go under us and disrespect us, then we have to shoot it. We were making those shots, and we felt confident, and that gave us an early boost.”

Illinois has won five of its past six games after sliding past Ohio State.

The Fighting Illini trailed by 10 points with under 11 minutes to play before staging the comeback. Illinois finally went ahead on two free throws by Hawkins with 1:15 remaining, and Terrence Shannon Jr. added two from the line with 11.3 seconds left.

“It was just refusing not to lose,” said Illini backup forward Dain Dainja, who had 18 points and eight rebounds. “I don’t know, like I just didn’t want to lose. I kept going. I tried to do everything I could to get the ‘W.'”

Dainja scored in double digits for just the second time since the calendar turned to 2024.

“It’s just about staying positive and bringing good energy to the team,” Dainja said of his role. “I don’t want to be a downer to the team. I always want to bring good energy, make the guys laugh a little bit. Just doing those little things and just doing whatever it takes to win. That’s what’s most important.”

Shannon finished with 28 points to top the 20-point mark for the ninth time in the past 12 games.

Illinois coach Brad Underwood wasn’t pleased that his club dug a hole but was plenty excited about the comeback.

“I don’t doubt this team’s toughness and their grit, but I think we have to learn why we have those moments,” Underwood said. “We didn’t play very well offensively. We’ve got to play better. I thought defensively we were pretty solid for most of the night.”

–Field Level Media

Docsports, The most trusted name in sports handicapping