CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Rayvonte Rice scored 23 and led Illinois to a badly needed win over Nebraska Wednesday, 69-57.
The Illini (19-11, 9-8 Big Ten) have won two straight as they look for a way into the NCAA tournament.
Nebraska (13-16, 5-12) has lost seven games in a row and nine of its last 10.
Rice had a quiet six-point first half but scored 17 in the second 20 minutes. That included seven straight over a key stretch midway through the half that brought Illinois back from a 40-39 deficit to a 46-42 lead.
Kendrick Nunn and Leron Black added 11 each for Illinois.
Shavon Shields led Nebraska with 14 points. Terran Petteway added 13.
Illinois started slow but scrapped for a 31-23 lead with 55 seconds in the first half on a 3-pointer by Rice.
The Cornhuskers answered with a 13-0 run over the next 5:30, taking a 36-31 lead. Shields scored seven of those points, including a 3-pointer with 17:09 left in the game to put Nebraska up 34-31, its first lead since midway through the first half.
Rice finally ended the drought for the Illini, hitting another 3-pointer with 15:25 left in the game to close the gap to two points, 36-34.
Then Rice took over.
His seven straight gave the Illini a lead they wouldn’t give up.
He drilled home a long 3-pointer with 1:35 left in the game to give Illinois a decisive 59-50 lead.
Rice has been the player the Illini have turned to the last past two seasons. Even after a lengthy absence in January and February due to injury and a suspension for a violation of team rules, he remains Illinois’ leading scorer and rebounder.
The Illini entered the game as a bubble team in search of wins, likely at least two, to make the NCAA tournament after falling short last season.
Nebraska: Wednesday was the Cornhuskers’ seventh road game in their last 10. They won just once over that stretch. After opening Big Ten play 4-3, Nebraska has fallen to 12th in the 14-team conference.
Illinois: The Illini entered the game as the country’s No. 1 free-throw shooting team, hitting 79.6 percent. They were 20 of 23 Wednesday night.
Nebraska closes the regular season at home Sunday against Maryland.
Illinois finishes Saturday at Purdue.
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