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Rice can’t do it alone as Illini fall to Nebraska 67-58

Illinois' Rayvonte Rice (24) drives basket past Nebraska's Terran Petteway during first half an NCAA college basketball game Lincoln Neb.

Illinois' Rayvonte Rice (24) drives to the basket past Nebraska's Terran Petteway during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

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Updated: February 13, 2014 12:24AM

LINCOLN, Neb. — In a rocking new arena, with a fan base suddenly alive, Nebraska basketball has a good thing going these days.

Forget the Cornhuskers’ overall record, which stands at 13-10 after a 67-58 victory Wednesday against struggling Illinois. They’re 11-1 at Pinnacle Bank Arena — really a heck of a place — and have a genuine star-in-the-making in 6-6 guard Terran Petteway, who entered the game leading all Big Ten newcomers in scoring at 17.5 points per game.

Petteway scored 16 points for Nebraska before fouling out late, but the surprising show-stealer was sophomore forward Shavon Shields, who exploded for a career-high 33 points. That’s some kind of one-two punch.

By comparison, it raised a serious issue about the Illini (14-11, 3-9 Big Ten), who have lost nine of their last 10 games. And the ­issue is the Illini wouldn’t know a one-two punch of their own if it punched them in the face.

Rayvonte Rice had another strong night, scoring 23 points and adding six rebounds and three steals, but no one else had a standout game — at least not offensively. Freshman Kendrick Nunn was the Illini’s second-leading scorer with nine points.

Without a consistent No. 2 scoring option — and it’s clear Illinois just plain doesn’t have one — it’s going to be extremely difficult to get any sort of a season-saving winning streak going.

This shines a light on coach John Groce’s recent decision to replace seniors Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey in the starting lineup with Nunn and fellow freshman Malcolm Hill. Ekey is the Illini’s leading three-point shooter, but Bertrand has the closest thing Illinois has to a well-developed offensive game after Rice.

Only three games ago, Bertrand had a 20-point outing. Two games before that, he scored 19.

Those types of nights might be a thing of the past, though, because Bertrand played only 12 minutes against the Cornhuskers, his lowest total in his last 80 games. In the first game after the lineup switch Sunday at Penn State, he played only 13 minutes. Combined, Bertrand had scored five points in the two games.

‘‘Certainly, it wasn’t by any means a demotion,’’ Groce said. ‘‘The media and people want to talk about that, but I basically asked two guys to come off the bench. . . . They’re both good players.’’

The Illini looked great early, jumping ahead 10-2 with Nunn and Hill contributing seven of those points. But as is the norm with this team, the consistent offensive production just wasn’t there.

And no one could stop Shields off the bounce. He finished an impressive 15-for-15 from the free-throw line.


Twitter: @slgreenberg

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