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Illinois basketball gets needed 71-51 victory over Nebraska

Illinois' BrandPaul (3) shoots over Nebraska's ShavShields (31) first half an NCAA college basketball game Lincoln Neb. Tuesday Jan. 22

Illinois' Brandon Paul (3) shoots over Nebraska's Shavon Shields (31) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

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Updated: January 23, 2013 12:01AM

LINCOLN, Neb. — The Devaney Sports Center was not the ideal venue for a team hungry for a victory, not after the soap-opera loss
Illinois endured here a year ago.

Then again, things haven’t been ideal in the world of Illini hoops for a while.

Needing a win in the worst way, Illinois toughed out a 71-51 victory Tuesday against Nebraska to end a three-game losing streak.

Give a lot of credit to D.J. Richardson, who put the Illini (15-5, 2-4 Big Ten) on his back and scored a career-high 30 points, including a career-high six three-pointers. While Richardson made 6 of 9 three-pointers, the rest of the team nearly came up empty (1-for-13). Mike Shaw’s trey with less than two minutes to go prevented the shutout.

‘‘I thought D.J. was terrific at both ends,’’ said coach John Groce, who was thrilled that Richardson held Ray Gallegos to five points. ‘‘As impressive as his 30 was, he had to chase Gallegos all night. It was as good a performance as we’ve had all year because of both ends.’’

Richardson credited the meeting he called for pumping up the team to play defense.

‘‘The team meeting brought us closer together,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘From the beginning of the season, Coach has talked about us needing to be the most aggressive team. And tonight, that’s what we were. We were road warriors.’’

Richardson’s fifth trey gave the Illini a 61-46 lead with 5:40 left and had Nebraska fans heading for the exits.

‘‘Being a senior leader, I didn’t let the outside stuff get to me,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘I just kept shooting like Coach wanted me to, and they fell for me tonight.’’

Despite a tough shooting night, Brandon Paul (4-for-13) battled his way to 14 points.

Give a lot of credit to Groce, too. Unhappy with the way fouls were being called, he received a technical two minutes into the second half. From there, the Illini seemed more satisfied with the officiating, and the Cornhuskers were doing the howling.

It was the second technical in two games for Groce. Those are his only T’s this season.

With its next five games against ranked teams, it was important for the Illini to stop heading in the wrong direction.

Nebraska (10-10, 1-5) might not have the skill to prevail often, but it has been hanging around in Big Ten games because of defense and determination. This game followed that pattern.

By staying determined, though, Illinois was able to break out of its discouraging Big Ten slump on a court where it was crushed 80-57 on Feb. 18, 2012. That game left Meyers Leonard in tears and Bruce Weber hanging on to his job by a thread.

There was no replay of that Tuesday.

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