Nebraska had the effort and energy needed for a road upset but not the necessary depth.
Sticking with a six-man rotation, the Huskers played Illinois toe-to-toe before falling 72-65 Saturday before 16,618 fans at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill.
Ray Gallegos and Dylan Talley combined for 43 points, helping Nebraska (13-16, 4-12 Big Ten Conference) to a 57-55 lead with 6:08 remaining.
Illinois (21-9, 8-8) responded with a 7-0 run to take the lead for good.
Nebraska shot 45.5 percent in a game in which neither team led by more than single digits. Gallegos had 23 points, on 8-of-19 shooting, and Talley had 20 points, his sixth straight game of 16 points or more.
Gallegos, 6-of-13 on three-pointers, made his final three with three minutes remaining, pulling Nebraska within 64-62.
But the Huskers, just 1-of-7 shooting down the stretch, never got closer.
“We moved the ball well and were on the attack,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “Dylan, for a long part of the night, was really good for us. And Ray shot the three, and when Ray shoots the three well, that’s really good for us.”
Tracy Abrams scored 16 points to lead five Illinois players in double figures. He scored eight points in the final five minutes to help the Illini pull away.
“We didn’t guard as well as we needed to down the stretch,” Miles said. “I thought they drove the ball on us, especially Abrams. He was vital down the stretch.”
Nebraska’s sixth man, point guard Benny Parker, played 10 minutes and fouled out.
“We’ve shortened the bench a great deal,” Miles said. “I think we’ve played our best basketball doing it … but we’ve got to get some of these other guys to perk up and help us, too.”
Illinois led 35-32 at halftime, and Nebraska took its first lead of the second half on Talley’s steal and layup with 12:35 remaining.
Twice, Gallegos made three-pointers to give Nebraska the lead, once at 47-45, and again at 52-50.
The Huskers' final lead came after Shavon Shields drove the baseline and made his shot; he drew a foul, but missed the free throw.
Brandon Paul tied the game with a driving shot, and D.J. Richardson hit a three-pointer — his first points of the second half — with 4:56 remaining to put Illinois ahead to stay.
NEBRASKA 65, ILLINOIS 72
Three-pointers--9-18 (Gallegos 6-13, Talley 2-3, Shields 1-1, Parker 0-1). Field-goal percentage--45.5. Free-throw percentage--66.7. Team fouls--14. Assists--11 (Talley, 5). Turnovers--11. Steals--4 (Talley, 2). Blocked shots--5 (Ubel, 2).
Three-pointers--9-26 (Griffey 1-3, Richardson 3-6, Bertrand 0-1, Paul 1-7, Abrams 2-5, Henry 2-4). Field-goal percentage--43.6. Free-throw percentage--83.3. Team fouls--12. Assists--10 (Paul, 5). Turnovers--10. Steals--4 (Richardson, 2). Blocked shots--2 (Bertrand, Paul).