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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Joseph Bertrand scored a career-high 25 points and hit the shot that gave Illinois a decisive lead with 53 seconds to play Saturday on the way to a 59-54 victory over Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers (8-7, 0-4 Big Ten), looking for their first Big Ten win ever, were tied 54-54 and had the ball with 1:21 to play.
But Toney McCray turned the ball over, setting up Bertrand, who hit a short floater on the run that gave Illinois (14-3, 3-1) a 56-54 lead.
The Cornhuskers had a chance at the other end, but Bo Spencer settled for a long jumper on the run that missed.
Illinois’ Brandon Paul came up with the ball and, on the break, drew an intentional foul going to the basket. As Nebraska coach Doc Sadler argued the call, the junior hit two free throws to put the game all but out of reach at 58-54 with 21 seconds to play.
Bertrand made 11 of his 12 shots in his third career start. Paul added 11 points.
Spencer led Nebraska with 13 points. McCray added 12, and Brandon Richardson scored 10.
Both teams were sloppy. Nebraska finished with 20 turnovers, and Illinois had 14.
The Cornhuskers double-teamed and sometimes triple-teamed 7-foot-1 center Meyers Leonard, limiting him seven points and four rebounds in 24 foul-plagued minutes.
The Illini played without injured starting point guard Sam Maniscalco. Another starter, D.J. Richardson, was limited by a wrist injury to two points on just four shots in 21 minutes.
Nebraska’s 25-22 halftime lead capped a particularly ugly first half that left the home crowd grumbling.
The teams combined for 24 turnovers in the first 20 minutes, a dozen apiece.
Nebraska didn’t score in the game’s first 4-plus minutes, giving Illinois a chance to race ahead, but the Illini muffed the opportunity. Illinois put up just five points in those first 4 minutes.
Once the Cornhuskers got on the board, they built a little momentum, going on an 11-0 run. Richardson’s reverse layup with 10:20 to play made it 13-7.
Center Jorge Brian Diaz had missed five straight games but came off the bench to drive Nebraska’s run with five points.
But Diaz limped to the bench with 5:29 left in the half, and Illinois clawed back.
Paul and Tracy Abrams hit back-to-back 3-pointers for the Illini, the second by Abrams with 4:07 left in the half giving the Illini a 22-18 edge.
But just as quickly as Illinois seemed to catch fire, the Illini went cold.
The Huskers rattled off seven straight points, the last three on fast-break jump shot by Spencer with 1:05 to play that gave Nebraska its halftime lead.
Dylan Talley also saw his first action for Nebraska in weeks, playing 28 minutes off the bench and scoring six points.
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