Illinois kept leaving the door open, and Nebraska tripped over its own feet and slammed into the frame.
The Huskers fell behind by as many as 15 points in the second half, went 3-for-23 from three-point range including 0-for-11 after halftime, missed 10 of their 21 free-throw attempts and lost to Illinois 71-64 Saturday in Champaign.
The loss was Nebraska's fifth straight and seventh in nine games as the bottom continues to sink lower in a season that increasingly looks to be spiraling away.
"We need something good to happen. But we're bruised. Your spirit gets down when you get beat up a little bit," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said on the Husker Sports Radio Network. "I see great effort, but again, the general enthusiasm and spirit of a team suffers when you go through a losing streak, and that's a fact of life. It's human nature."
Tanner Borchardt had a career game for the Huskers (13-9, 3-8 Big Ten), finishing with career highs of 12 points, 18 rebounds and 32 minutes played. He had eight points and 12 rebounds in the second half.
Eleven of Borchardt's boards came on the offensive end. He finished with the most rebounds by a Husker since Ed Morrow had 18 against Gardner-Webb in December of 2016. That game was a loss, coincidentally, and one of the low points in a tough season.
"You look at his plus-minus, and we're basically even for the game when he's in the game," Miles said. "You can't ask for more out of him. And it's just effort, determination and mentality. That's what I love about it. He's not worried about anything but trying to help the team win."
The senior from Gothenburg was one of the only bright spots.
Illinois' Kipper Nichols, who hadn't so much as scored a single point in the Illini's last five games, went off for a season-high 18 to reach double figures for the first time since Dec. 15.
He was one of three Illinois players in double figures, and scored 10 points with a pair of three-pointers in 20-6 first-half Illini run that turned a five-point Nebraska lead into a nine-point deficit.
Nichols' effort led Illinois in blasting Nebraska 36-4 in bench points. In a game where Nebraska won the rebounding, points in the paint and second-chance points, it was a deciding factor.
"We're not deep enough," Miles said. "Then if you have starters that shoot poorly, you've got a real problem on your hands, and that's what happened tonight."
Nebraska's starters all played 30 or more minutes. And just one bench player, Thorir Thorbjarnarson with 17, played more than six minutes.
For comparison's sake, all 10 Illinois players who got in played six or more minutes, and just two played 30 or more.
Nebraska's starters — outside of Borchardt (6-for-9) — combined to shoot 17-for-55 from the floor and 3-for-22 from three-point range.
James Palmer had 22 points and eight rebounds for Nebraska, but was just 6-for-20 from the floor. Thomas Allen added 11 points, but was 0-for-4 from three-point range and 1-for-3 at the free-throw line.
And Glynn Watson hit one of the lowest points of his Husker career, finishing 3-for-12 from the field and fouling out with six points, two rebounds and zero assists. In 16 first-half minutes, Watson was scoreless on 0-for-5 from the field, 0-for-3 from three with zero assists and one rebound.
Nebraska shot 35.7 percent (25-for-70) from the floor while allowing Illinois (7-15, 3-8) to shoot 48 percent. It was the third straight game the Huskers have shot worse than 40 percent from the field.
Still, the Huskers had life late as Illinois was an abysmal 5-for-19 at the free-throw line in the second half.
But just like the entire month of January, Nebraska didn't have enough. Multiple times NU was down seven with the ball and couldn't convert, including a pair of missed layups and a wide-open three-pointer that was airballed.
Maybe making those shots wouldn't have made a difference. But the manner in which NU came up short was emblematic of the last five weeks.
— Chris Basnett