CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Behind the scenes, Illinois coach John Groce said there was improvement. In practices, he could see the freshmen grasping the system and the veterans leading them through it.
But on the court, the evidence was hard to find.
But after surviving an eight-game Big Ten losing streak, the Illini have put their coach's frequent description of their resiliency and togetherness into action.
Their 60-49 triumph over Nebraska not only snapped the Cornhuskers' five-game winning streak Wednesday night but it strung together the first consecutive Illini victories since they beat Indiana and Penn State at home at the start of the conference season.
"We should be better now than we were a month ago or two months ago," Groce said. "We take pride in that. You're seeing the byproduct of stick-to-itiveness."
For much of the season, the lone scoring option has been Rayvonte Rice. Groce had stated at nearly every news conference that to win the Illini needed every player to contribute.
Against Nebraska, the Illini (16-12, 5-10) used multiple options.
Freshman Kendrick Nunn followed up on his 19-point performance in last week's victory at Minnesota with 13 points, 10 of which came in the first half. Fellow freshman starter Malcolm Hill added 10 second-half points, using two key 3-pointers early to swing momentum toward the Illini.
Rice added 10 points and nine rebounds. Nnanna Egwu was a strong defensive presence. Jon Ekey (eight points, six rebounds) and Joseph Bertrand (six points) played their best collective games, Groce said, since moving into bench roles five contests ago.
Even Tracy Abrams, who missed all seven of his shot attempts, made up for it with five assists, no turnovers and two steals.
"They have a lot of weapons," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. "They have a lot of guys who can really hurt you."
Nebraska was the third straight opponent the Illini have limited to fewer than 50 points.
Big Ten leading scorer Terran Petteway, who entered the game averaging 18.4 points, had a quiet 13. Shavon Shields, who exploded for 33 points in Nebraska's victory over the Illini just three games ago, was limited to eight.
Illinois made the most of hustle plays, converting 15 Nebraska turnovers into 24 points and adding 16 second-chance points, outrebounding the Cornhuskers 34-28.
"It just says a lot about the guys we have," Ekey said. "Everyone we have from the coaches to everyone on the staff never was giving up no matter what we were going through."