By Shannon Ryan
LINCOLN, Neb. – After Illinois beat Penn State to snap an eight-game losing streak with an altered starting lineup, there was hope among Illini fans that the team had found an answer.
That feel-good moment was a blip.
They still are searching after losing to Nebraska 67-58 Wednesday night, a ninth defeat in 10 games. The Illini haven’t won consecutive road games since 2009.
The Illini (14-11, 3-9 Big Ten) appeared to return to some other trends as well as Rayvonte Rice as the team’s main – or only? – scoring threat with 23 points. The rest of the team combined for 25.
Rice dazzled with a behind-the-back move for a fastbreak layup, but his efforts weren’t enough solely to combat Nebraska’s Shavon Shields (33 points) and Terran Petteway (16 points), and too often the Illini defense struggled to make stops.
The Cornhuskers used a 10-0 run in the second half to pull ahead 44-40 after the Illini had built a 40-34 lead early.
Illinois likely will pin its struggles to stop Nebraska (13-10, 5-6) on its defense as the offensively struggling Cornhuskers were shooting at about a 45 percent clip through much of the game.
The starting lineup injected with freshmen Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn was less of an adrenaline boost against the Cornhuskers, who are now 11-1 at their sparkling new Pinnacle Bank Arena. After scoring 19 points at Penn State, Nunn was held to nine points.
Veteran starters Nnanna Egwu and Tracy Abrams were invisible on offense, as both picked up three fouls early in the second half and Abrams turned the ball over and was held to three points. To his credit, Egwu did pick up double digits in rebounds for just the third time in conference play.
Abrams, who entered the game averaging 6.4 points in his last five games, was 0-for-2 for most of the game and picked up his fourth foul late.
The Illini had started the game with promise, opening with a deceptive 10-2 run.