Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu had a conversation with himself after he missed a free throw and Nebraska hit a 3-pointer to take a five-point lead with under four minutes left in regulation.
“I told myself it was time to lock in,” he said. “Trust in yourself. Believe your instincts. You got this. Let’s try to will my team to victory.”
Dosunmu did just that Friday night.
The star guard scored the last 10 points in regulation for Illinois and the first five in overtime, allowing the sixth-ranked Fighting Illini to turn back Nebraska’s upset bid 77-72.
Dosunmu, who had 22 of his 31 points after halftime, tied it at 66 with his driving lay-in with 20 seconds left in regulation. Nebraska’s Trey McGowens failed to get a shot off at the buzzer, and Dosunmu opened overtime with a layup and 3-pointer to send Illinois to its fifth consecutive victory.
“We escaped in a very ugly fashion,” coach Brad Underwood said. “Nobody at the end of the year is going to draw pictures of this one, but it’s a W. We’ve got to learn from it. I want to give Nebraska a ton of credit because they played great.”
Kofi Cockburn added 21 points and 13 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season for the Illini (14-5, 10-3), who have their best Big Ten record after 13 games since the 2004-05 season.
Lat Mayen had 16 points, including a couple late 3-pointers, and Teddy Allen and McGowens scored 15 apiece for the Cornhuskers. Nebraska (4-12, 0-9) lost its 26th straight against Big Ten opponents.
“The biggest thing we need to take out of this is to know we can play with anybody and battle a team that’s going to be a national championship contender,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “That’s a huge step in the right direction.”
Illinois was a 14-point favorite, but this game was anything but easy. Underwood didn’t expect it to be. Until a week ago, he and his team had been pointing toward a game with third-ranked Michigan on Thursday, but that one was postponed because of the Wolverines’ COVID-19 pause. Nebraska, which had four games to make up because of its own issues with the virus, was put on the schedule only a week ago.
“We thought we were playing Michigan on the schedule,” Underwood said. “You’re going to get two top-6 teams playing and then all of a sudden it’s not. It’s not Michigan, it’s a team who is really struggling. And all of a sudden this becomes that trap game.”
Nebraska, which hasn’t beaten a top-10 opponent since March 2014, led 64-58 with under three minutes left.
He made two free throws, drove the length of the court for a layup and made two more free throws to tie it. After Dalano Banton scored with 37.8 seconds left to put Nebraska up, Dosunmu tied it with another layup.
Nebraska called a timeout and had a chance to win it on a final shot in regulation. McGowens got hung up between Trent Frazier and Dosunmu and couldn’t get off a decent shot, with Hoiberg throwing his facemask to the floor in frustration.
“The lack of execution on that last play is extremely disappointing,” he said. “To draw something up we think could have at least gotten us a good look to win a game like this, and then to go out and have a couple guys in the wrong spot, that’s the hard thing. That’s going to be the one that will keep me up tonight.”
Illinois: Dosunmu had been so-so for most of the game. But as elite players do, he stepped up when his team needed him most and sent Illinois to its fourth straight road win.
Nebraska: The Huskers played one of their best games at a point when they could have cashed in for the season. They are in the middle of a stretch of playing eight games in 14 days.
Illinois hosts Northwestern on Tuesday.
Nebraska visits Penn State on Sunday.