Nebraska basketball hints at NCAA Tournament run against Illinois

The Nebraska basketball team played arguably its best road game of the season, but fell just short against 14th ranked Illinois.

Feb 4, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Keisei Tominaga (30) drives to
Feb 4, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Keisei Tominaga (30) drives to / Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

For the entirety of the Big Ten season, Nebraska basketball fans have just been looking for Fred Hoiberg’s team to show any fight at all on the road. On Sunday night they finally got it, in spades. Because of that, hope for an actual tournament run, or at least the program’s first win finally feels realistic.

That hope was fueled despite eventually losing to 14th-ranked Illinois in Champaign simply because for the first time in a long time, the Huskers didn’t let adversity take the wind out of their sales. They didn’t allow Illinois to run away with it. And the one time it looked like they might, the Cornhuskers fought back.

A loss is never good. Especially when the Nebraska basketball team is squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. But Sunday’s loss was as good as you could ever hope to see. 

Nebraska went all the way to overtime before they finally succumbed to a very talented Illinois team. An Illinois team that, with the win, moved into a tie for second place in the conference after Wisconsin dropped a tight one to Purdue earlier in the day.

It wasn’t as though the Nebraska basketball team faded in overtime either. While they spent most of the period behind, they continued to fight and scrap and grind. And they did it while being absolutely destroyed on the boards. 

Illinois finished with a 50-33 rebound edge. That kind of edge was the kind that Maryland was able to use to cruise to a win in the Huskers’ last road game. That the Cornhuskers were able to overcome that and lose just 87-84 in the final seconds is newsworthy.

Nebraska basketball needs to bottle this effort

While hope has been refired by the effort Nebraska showed, it needs to carry over. Next up for the Huskers is another road game against Northwestern.

Things are going to be very different on Wednesday. The Huskers came into Sunday with few people giving them a chance to win. Against Northwestern, they’re going to be expected to show up and fight again.

How Nebraska basketball bounces back from Sunday could be a big sign of the rest of the season.