LINCOLN, Neb. — The 3-point shot has been a lot more miss than hit for Illinois this season, but not Sunday night.
The Illini made 7 of their first 8 shots from beyond the arc in the second half and continued their late-season surge with a 73-57 victory over Nebraska.
The Illini, who came into the game 12th in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting in conference games (32.9 percent), finished 13 of 26 on 3s while winning their third straight road game and fourth in five games overall.
“I don’t know if any coach could say you could go 13 for 26 and bet on that,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “Even if you have a good-shooting team, that’s a pretty high percentage. We were blessed (they) went in. We have good shooters, and a lot of times you don’t have all of them clicking at the same time.”
Of course, it helped that the Illini (17-12, 7-9) were playing an opponent that entered the game last in the Big Ten in 3-point defense in league games (41.3 percent).
“It’s hard to say, (but) how many times can a team have a good night against you?” Nebraska forward Michael Jacobson said. “You’ve got to start looking at yourselves, looking in the mirror a little bit. I don’t think we need a structural change. We’ve got to figure that out.”
Malcolm Hill scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half for Illinois, and he and Tracy Abrams each made four 3-pointers.
“We did a good job of staying composed and shooting it,” Hill said. “Someone like Tracy, for example, he was struggling a little in the middle of the year. We told him to stay aggressive and keep shooting, and he made a lot of shots tonight.”
Jalen Coleman-Lands’ 3 pushed the lead to 47-37 with 13:41 to play, and the Huskers (12-16, 6-10) never got closer.
Groce said his assistants, support staff and players have stuck together through a lot of rough patches earlier in the season. The Illini are playing their best ball at the right time.
“We’ve continued to find a formula that would give us a chance to win basketball games and compete, and it has here for a couple weeks,” Groce said. “It’s not automatic. You have to choose mentally and physically to continue to play the way we’ve played. Hopefully the success here recently will convince them more mentally and physically to continue to play the way we have.”
Illinois: The Illini won a third straight Big Ten game for the first time since the 2014-15 season and are now in sole possession of ninth place. The Illini need to finish 10th or higher to avoid a play-in game in the conference tournament.
Nebraska: The Huskers suffered their most lopsided home loss of the season and probably need to win at least one of their last two regular-season games to avoid a play-in game.
Illinois’ 12 steals against Nebraska were a season high.
Maverick Morgan scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half for the Illini, and Abrams added 13 points and six assists.
Tai Webster led the Cornhuskers with 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Nebraska outscored the Illini 30-12 in the paint, but Illinois scored 21 points off 18 turnovers.
The Illini continued to play strong defense, holding the Huskers to 37.5-percent shooting from the field, 26.7 percent on 3s and their second-lowest point total. In the previous six games, Illinois opponents shot 39.7 percent overall, 32.5 percent on 3s and averaging 64.2 points.
Illinois hosts Michigan State on Wednesday.
Nebraska visits Minnesota on Thursday.