Published Monday, February 10, 2014 at 9:28 pm / Updated at 9:48 pm
Notes: Lineup featuring pair of freshmen helps Illinois end skid

A week ago, I wrote about Illinois dealing with a seven-game skid. It grew to eight games — the longest in 40 years — before it was snapped Sunday night with a 60-55 win at Penn State.

Now, the Illini (14-10, 3-8) come to Nebraska (12-10, 4-6) on Wednesday night with some momentum provided by a new starting lineup.

Coach John Groce replaced two fifth-year seniors with true freshmen wings Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill. The 6-foot-3 Nunn produced a career-high 19 points and four rebounds and hit a key 3-pointer with 20 seconds left. The 6-6 Hill had 11 points and three rebounds.

The two freshmen were Illinois’ lone double-figure scorers.

Groce had been starting two seniors and three juniors, then bringing five freshmen off the bench. He decided he needed a different mix of experience for better productivity.

The two replaced starters, Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey, hardly have been forgotten. They played 13 and 21 minutes at Penn State.

“Ekey and Bertrand’s maturity level, when I told them what I was going to do, was outstanding,” Groce said. “When you are able to bring off the bench a double-figure scorer like Bertrand (11.0) ... and Ekey, who is our leading 3-point shooter and defensive rebounder ... I thought that might give us a better blend.”

Nunn, out of Chicago Simeon High, was a consensus national top 75 recruit who had a scholarship offer from Nebraska. Hill, from Belleville, Ill., also was a top 75 recruit and finished third in voting for Illinois’ Mr. Basketball.

Groce said he is “leaning toward keeping the new lineup” against Nebraska.

“As long as those guys don’t come in here and can’t fit their head through the door because their head is too large or they lack humility,” he said.

Big Ten honors

Player of the week: Ohio State guard Aaron Craft. The 6-foot-2 senior from Findlay, Ohio, averaged 12 points, 5 assists, 4.5 steals and 3 rebounds in wins over Iowa and Purdue.

Rookie of the week: Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes. The 6-7 freshman from Toledo, Ohio, averaged 14 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals in wins over Illinois and Michigan State.

Quote of the week

Ohio State coach Thad Matta on the grind of playing through a Big Ten basketball regular season:

“Whoever coined the phrase ‘March Madness’ forgot about January and February.”

Stat of the week

Five players are within seven-tenths of a point of the Big Ten scoring lead: 1, D.J. Newbill, Penn State, 17.7; 2, Yogi Ferrell, Indiana 17.6; 3, Gary Harris, Michigan State, 17.6; 4, Terran Petteway, Nebraska, 17.5; 5, Nik Stauskas, Michigan, 17.0.

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

Read more related stories


< >
2013 college football preview
View our 2013 college football preview, a 26-page, three-part section filled with coverage of the Huskers, Big Ten conference and more.
Big Red Bowl Retrospective
See complete historical results, game recaps and photo coverage from the Nebraska Cornhuskers college football bowl game appearances, from the 1941 Rose Bowl up to today.
Big Ten football recruits
The World-Herald's Big Ten recruiting database contains every football recruit that signed with a Big Ten school from 2002 to 2011, complete with color-coded interactive map representations, player information, high-concentrations recruiting clusters and more.
Devaney Center timeline
Check out a World-Herald timeline to see the evolution of memorable moments at the Devaney Center, complete with photos, videos, memorable quotes and more.
Follow OWHbigred on Twitter
Looking for the latest Husker sports news from The Omaha World-Herald and Follow us on Twitter!
Husker scholarship distribution chart
Want to see how many scholarships NU has invested at each position? Wondering how the Huskers have appropriated their offers by class? Check out our handy chart to look further into how Bo Pelini has built his team.
Husker Signing Day 2013
The World-Herald's top-notch coverage of the Nebraska football's class of 2013, complete with videos, photos, articles, live recruit interviews, interactive components and more.
Husker turnovers: A slippery slope
Bo Pelini has coached 68 games at Nebraska. When NUís turnover margin is positive or even, the Huskers are 35-2. When they lose the turnover battle, theyíre 13-18. Why hasnít Nebraska joined the nationís elite? More than anything, itís turnovers.
Interactive: Bo Pelini's contract
View an interactive PDF of Pelini's revised contract signed by the NU football coach, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Darin Erstad's contract (2012)
View an interactive PDF of NU baseball coach Darin Erstad's contract released in August 2012, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Tim Miles' contract
View an interactive PDF of Tim Miles' contract signed by the Nebraska men's basketball coach on May 4, 2012, complete with brief legal explanations, comparisons to other Big Ten coaches and more.'s Big Ten coverage
Delivering the best news coverage and analysis of the Big Ten Conference, from and other top news outlets from around country.
Husker Recruiting: Changes shrink NU's sphere of influence
For decades, the Great Plains represented fertile recruiting ground for Tom Osborne's football program. Restoring that lost tradition won't be easy.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
< >