LIVE! Senior Day

LIVE! Senior Day

Illinois 72, Nebraska 65 — Final

CHAMPAIGN (AP) — Illinois used double-figure scoring from five players to hold off stubborn Nebraska 72-65.

The Huskers led 57-55 with just over 6 minutes to play. But the Illini (21-9, 8-8 Big Ten) went on a 7-0 run started by a three-pointer from D.J. Richardson to go up 62-57. They never trailed again.

Tracy Abrams led Illinois with 16 points. Brandon Paul had 14 and Richardson, Myke Henry and Nnanna Egwu also scored in double figures.

Nebraska (13-16, 4-12) was led by 23 points from Ray Gallegos and 20 by Dylan Talley.

Talley's bucket with 14:29 to play tied the game at 42, and two minutes later he put the Cornhuskers up 44-42, first stealing the ball from Abrams and then breaking away for a layup.

For the next six minutes, Nebraska gave Illinois all it could handle, riding jump shots from Talley and Gallegos and finding points under the basket when they needed them to swap leads with Illinois.

But with Nebraska up 57-55, the Illini went on a 7-0 run that swung the game their way.

Paul and Richardson sank back-to-back jumpers — Richardson's was a three-pointer — and Tracy Abrams drove for a final two off the glass to put Illinois up for good, 62-57.

Saturday was Senior Day, with the core of the Illini roster — including Richardson, Paul, Sam McLaurin and Tyler Griffey — honored along with their parents before the game. The day also marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Assembly Hall, and there were ceremonies for that, too.

And the Illini, perhaps predictably, came out flat.

On the big screens hanging above midcourt, Illinois reminded its fans of the high points from its past the run-and-dunk Flyin' Illini from the ’80s, the Deron Williams-led team that went 37-2 and lost in the 2005 NCAA title game.

What the packed house saw on the court below didn't look much like those teams.

Nebraska overcame seven first-half turnovers, some of them on glaring mistakes, to stay close over the first 20 minutes.

Talley's three-pointer with 3:27 left in the half pulled the Cornhuskers even at 28.

But after getting a stop, Gallegos missed a three-pointer that would have given Nebraska its first lead since the opening minutes.

Illinois took a 35-32 lead to the locker room, but got there on a desperation heave by Abrams with 4 seconds on the clock. Abrams dribbled out most of the half's final possession near the top of the arc before finally driving and finding no space, forcing him to shoot falling away from a defender.

While Talley and Gallegos drove Nebraska, the Cornhuskers didn't get a point from their bench and played just seven players. Gallegos, Talley and Brandon Ubel each played all 40 minutes.

The win helps build Illinois' NCAA tournament case with two regular seasons games left. The Illini play Tuesday at Iowa and March 10 at No. 16 Ohio State.


NEBRASKA (13-16)
Ubel 3-7 0-0 6, Rivers 3-8 1-2 7, Gallegos 8-19 1-2 23, Talley 7-15 4-4 20, Shields 4-5 0-1 9, Parker 0-1 0-0 0, Tyrance 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-55 6-9 65.

McLaurin 0-0 2-4 2, Griffey 1-4 0-0 3, Richardson 4-9 2-2 13, Bertrand 1-3 0-0 2, Paul 6-14 1-2 14, Abrams 4-11 6-6 16, Henry 4-8 2-2 12, Berardini 0-0 0-0 0, Egwu 4-6 2-2 10. Totals 24-55 15-18 72.

Halftime—Illinois 35-32. 3-Point Goals—Nebraska 9-18 (Gallegos 6-13, Talley 2-3, Shields 1-1, Parker 0-1), Illinois 9-26 (Richardson 3-6, Henry 2-4, Abrams 2-5, Griffey 1-3, Paul 1-7, Bertrand 0-1). Fouled Out—Parker. Rebounds—Nebraska 26 (Rivers, Shields, Talley 5), Illinois 35 (Henry 9). Assists—Nebraska 11 (Talley 5), Illinois 10 (Paul 5). Total Fouls—Nebraska 14, Illinois 12. A—16,618.

Nebraska 47, Illinois 45 — 11:51 second half

Nebraska averages 58 points per game. The Cornhuskers are almost there with about 12 minutes left in this one.

Nebraska isn’t going away. Illinois will have to earn this one today.

Sam McLaurin and his injured right ankle returned before the first media timeout. Sam immediately pulled down a tough defensive rebound and got fouled in the process.

Myke Henry continues to give the Illini very good minutes off the bench.

Nebraska’s top players Dylan Talley and Ray Gallegos are killing the Illini today. They’ve combined for 35 points and six threes.

It looks like Nebraska is going to hold the ball and limit the number of possessions in the game. Huskers not getting into their offense until 20 seconds left on the shot clock.

This Illinois crowd came here in a celebratory mood, but they’ve a nervous bunch right now. The Illini are struggling to find any consistency on either end.

Dave Downey was honored at the uner-12 timeout for his 53-point game against Indiana, a record that still stands as the single-game high at Illinois.

If this holds up and Nebraska wins, maybe this won’t be the last time Illinois plays in this building this year. A loss would leave the Illini with plenty of work to do the rest of the way and it could possibly bring the NIT back into play. Stay tuned.

Illinois 35, Nebraska 32 — Halftime

Tracy Abrams’ three just before the halftime buzzer gave the Illini some momentum. It was a desperation shot.

“Have we given BP a blow?” Groce asked the bench. Paul took a breather at the 10:13 mark.

D.J. has left Gallegos a few times to help on other guys Can’t do that. Gallegos is getting heated up.

“We are leaving him too much,” Groce said.

Tracy Abrams made like Tavon Wilson and intercepted a Nebraska pass deep in the lane.

Groce called for Sam McLaurin to check in the game. Sam told them he can’t go right now.

Kenny Battle, Kendall Gill, Eddie Johnson, Erika Harold and Lou Henson among the celebrities to wish the Assembly Hall a happy birthday during the under-8 timeout.

Andy Kaufmann’s game-winner against Iowa was shown, too.

“We have to run! You have to run!” Dustin Ford told the Illini bench. They think they can beat Nebraska in transition.

A great defensive possession leading to a shot-clock violation got Groce and the crowd fired up going into the under-4 timeout. Then they showed Frank Williams highlights narrated by Dick Vitale.

The Orange Krush yelled at a Nebraska player “Hey, dude, you look like Brittany Griner.”

Illinois tried to press late in the half. It didn’t work.

Rough first half for Joesph Bertrand at both ends.

Orange Krush chanting “We want Cliff (Alexander)!” The big man smiled while devouring his nachos.

Illinois shot 12 for 31 (38.7 percent) from the floor and 5 for 15 (33.3 percent) from three.

Richardson and Abrams each had eight points. Myke Henry had seven. Brandon Paul had four assists

Nebraska shot 12 for 24 from the floor and 4 for 8 from three.

Gallegos and Talley led the way with 11 points each.

Illinois 13, Nebraska 13 — 11:31 first half

McLaurin won the tip. Nnanna Egwu, who had taken the previous 29 opening tips, laughed and applauded.

Joseph Bertrand was killing the Illini defensively the first few possessions of the game.

Sam McLaurin got his right ankle looked at behind the Illinois bench before the first timeout.

Cliff Alexander is here. The big man is wearing red.

Eddie Johnson’s game-winner against No. 1 Michigan State was the first highlight shown today.

Highlights from the 1989 Georgia Tech game were shown during the under-12 timeout.

A point of emphasis this week was to get Egwu renewed confidence in his jumper. The big man buried his first shot.

“Good slip, good slip,” said the Illini bench when Myke Henry popped open and buried a three.

Myke got a steal at the top of the key and made a spin move in the lane at the other end for a layup He’s playing hard today, looks comfortable.

Nebraska made 4 of its first 5. The Huskers are 2 for 5 since and they’ve turned it over five times.

Great crowd here today.

Former Illinois offensive lineman Jeff Allen is sitting with the Orange Krush. Allen started 14 games for the Kansas City Chiefs this season. New England Patriots safety Tavon Wilson is a few seats down from Allen.

Nebraska (13-15, 4-11) at Illinois (20-9, 7-8) — Tipoff

A healthy portion of the fans were in their seats 12 minutes before tipoff for the Senior Day ceremony.

Very nice response form the fans for the seniors during the ceremony. These guys really deserve it. Classy group of guys, for sure.

Brandon Paul’s plaque features a photo of his dunk in the face of Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe.

I ran into Lynda Paul, mother of Brandon, in the line at the concession stand. She informs me that younger brother Darius is leading all MAC freshmen in scoring (10.9 ppg) and he’s pulling down 6.1 rebounds.

Darius is in line to be named to the MAC’s All-Freshman team.

Former public address announcer Jim Sheppard is in the house today. Hadn’t seen Jim here in a while.

They showed a video from 50 years ago today when the Assembly Hall was opened. Loren spotted himself on the video. He notes that everything, doors, windows are all the same.

Tim Miles and John Groce shared a laugh before the game. Groce has a lot of respect for Miles as a coach and as a guy.

Daniel Borup crushed the National Anthem. John Groce and Tim Miles each shook the UI senior’s hand.

Nebraska (13-15, 4-11) at Illinois (20-9, 7-8) — 30 minutes before tipoff

John Groce win rock the orange blazer today. It’ll be the second time he’s gone with the old Lou Henson look this season.

He wore a new navy blazer yesterday with some orange accents to his news confrence. Big day for him yesterday with the senior luncheon at the Rebounder’s Club and the Loyalty deal last night.

There’s still a chance you’ll see all four scholarship seniors in the starting lineup tonight along with fourth-year junior Joseph Bertrand.

Today’s game poster features Sam McLaurin, D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul, Kevin Berardini and Tyler Griffey.

Four senior managers: Andy Szabo, Paul Elliott, Ty Sampson and Andy Schmitt will also be honored with their families prior to the game. I ran into former Illini basketball manager Ryan Baker last night. Baker hosts the “Illini Insider” TV show with John Groce and he’s the lead sports anchor at CBS 2 in Chicago.

The BTN cameras were doing that thing where the shoot a key player from one team from a low angle while he takes pregame jumpers. They were focused on Nebraska’s Sam Shields. Apparently he’s not real comfortable with that. He shot a couple airballs and a few bricks.

There’s an outside chance Illinois goes with an all-senor lineup to start the game today featuring Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson, Joseph Bertrand, Tyler Griffey and Sam McLaurin.

Stay tuned.

Nebraska (13-15, 4-11) at Illinois (20-9, 7-8) — 60 minutes before tipoff

The big news is the Assembly Hall turning 50 and the seniors playing their last home game. There’s also a big recruit in the house. He’s big in physical size and in status. Curie big man Cliff Alexander is expected to be in attendance today. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound junior is one of the top targets in the Class of 2014. The latest word is Illinois is a real player in his recruitment.

I’ll try to catch up with Big Cliff when he gets here.

Michael Finke, Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn are also expected to be here.

Oh, by the way, this is a pretty significant game for the Illini. They can’t lose it, otherwise that NCAA tournament berth, that looks like a sure thing right now, won’t be such a lock. Win today, and the Illini should be fine. Lose, and they’ll leave themselves with some work to do on the road at Iowa and Ohio State and then in the Big Ten tournament.

John Groce said yesterday they don’t speak much about the tournament. It is on their minds. It’s March, who’s not thinking about the tournament.

Illinois didn’t look so good in its last outing at Michigan six days ago. The Wolverines, who have since lost to Penn State, scored 27 points off 13 Illinois turnovers.

The key today, of course, will be taking care of the ball, and getting out to a hot start. Nebraska is 331st in the country, averaging 58.5 points per game. If the Huskers get behind early, they’ll struggle to come back.

In the latest bracketologies, Illinois is a 10 seed in Joe Lunardi’s bracket. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Jerry Palm at CBS has the Illini as an 8 seed.

Orange Krush president Daniel Borup will sing the National Anthem today. He just did a sound check out her eon the floor. Tim Doyle, who’s calling today’s game for The Big Ten Network yelled “Let’s get some runs!” when Borup was done singing. Wrong song, Timmy.

John Higgins, Mike Sanzere and Teddy Valentine are your officials today. Lotsof star power in that crew.

Nebraska coach Tim Miles was out on the floor before the game watching a few of the players shooting around. The first-year Nebraska coach is one of the more entertaining figures out there. He can coach, too.

The Illini players and coaches gathered at John Groce’s house last night for a team meal. John and his wife Allison host the tea every weekend the team plays a game at home.

John and Allison were at the Loyalty Circle event last night. They’re donors.

Be back soon.

Nebraska (13-15, 4-11) at Illinois (20-9, 7-8) — 90 minutes before tipoff

Good afternoon and welcome to the final home game of the season for the Illini and the final home game in the careers of five seniors.

I’m told there’s an anniversary or something going on here today. The Assembly Hall turns 50 today and there will be some events surrounding today’s game to commemorate the milestone.

The News-Gazette’s Fred Kroner wrote a book about the building, which went on sale this week. He’ll be at the Assembly Hall today inside the West entrance with copies of the book for sale and will autograph them if you want his John Hancock.

Countless times I’ve written about Tyler Griffey being the first Illini on the floor. He was out here this morning with his dad Chris at about 9 a.m. getting some shots up. Chris Griffey tweeted this morning that this will be the last time he rebounds for Tyler at the Assembly Hall.

Chris Griffey and his younger son Trey attended Illinois’ practice yesterday. Trey rebounded and delivered passes to the players during their pre-practice shooting session.

Tyler’s out here first today. “The Journey” cameras are out here documenting his final pregame shooting session. He’s not a real emotional guy, so don’t expect any tears from him. Sam McLaurin and Griffey voted D.J. Richardson as the most likely to shed a tear. Brandon Paul said he’s emotional, too. He might get a little misty.

The Big Ten Network’s “The Journey” was in town earlier this week working on a feature on Griffey, Paul and Richardson. Look for that to possibly air next week.

Mike LaTulip got out here a little bit after Griffey. As I wrote earlier this week in the story about the assistant coaches, LaTulip is a funny guy. He might have a future in comedy if this basketball thing doesn’t work out.

Brandon Paul made an early appearance today. Illinois will wear white today.

Assembly Hall staffers are wearing pins that say “Happy Birthday”. They look like something you might see at a kid’s birthday party. I saw one guy wearing one earlier and I thought it was his birthday. When I saw multiple people sporting them, I figured it out.

I’m not always the quickest when it comes to these things.

Hopping on the radio with Steve Kelly and Loren Tate for the pregame show. I’ll be back with another update shortly.

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