Shannon scores Big Ten tourney-record 40 points as No. 13 Illinois tops Nebraska 98-87 in semifinals

Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg gestures during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Illinois in the semifinal round of the Big Ten Conference tournament, Saturday, March 16, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg gestures during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Illinois in the semifinal round of the Big Ten Conference tournament, Saturday, March 16, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Terrence Shannon Jr. scored a career-high 40 points for a Big Ten Tournament record to lead a second-half surge by 13th-ranked Illinois in a 98-87 victory over Nebraska in the semifinals on Saturday.

“Nobody can stop him. I think he’s the best player in the country by far,” said teammate Ty Rodgers, who had eight points and 13 rebounds. “When he’s in that mode, you can’t get him out.”

Marcus Domask added 16 points, eight assists and seven rebounds and Luke Goode made four 3-pointers for the Illini (25-8), who fell behind by 15 points early in the second half before seizing control to move to the conference championship game against Wisconsin on Sunday.

Wisconsin beat third-ranked Purdue 76-75 in overtime in the other semifinal game.

Brice Williams had 23 points, Keisei Tominaga added 18 and Rienk Mast scored 15 for the Huskers (23-10), who hit the wall hard down the stretch in their first appearance in the Big Ten semifinals in 13 seasons in the league.

“Not only physically did we hit some fatigue, but mentally,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

Shannon had 18 points in less than 12 minutes to start the game, went quiet for awhile, and then got going again early in the second half. The first team All-Big Ten player hit the 40-point mark for the eighth time in program history and the first since Malcolm Hill against Northern Kentucky on Nov. 13, 2016.

Shannon also broke the Big Ten Tournament record held by Northwestern’s Michael Thompson with 35 points against Minnesota in 2011. He went 5 for 9 from 3-point range and 13 for 16 from the foul line.

“He doesn’t get tired,” Domask said. “Little by little, he wears teams down.”

Shannon has not been made available for interviews since he was charged with rape in Kansas in December. The school suspended him, but a judge reinstated him after six games.

“He’s handled it like a professional. He knows there’s a serious situation out there. He’s been an unbelievable teammate,” coach Brad Underwood said.

The Huskers started to lose the Illini’s prolific guards down the stretch, and Illinois hit 59% from the floor against the Big Ten’s best shooting defense.

Tominaga’s slick drive for a layup stopped a 10-0 run around the 13-minute mark, but Shannon answered with a 3-pointer to bring Illinois back within three points. Tominaga, Nebraska’s leading scorer, knocked down a 3-pointer off the break to push the lead to 66-60, and teammate Josiah Allick closed his eyes and said, “Yes!” to no one in particular on the way back. The Huskers badly needed that, but they couldn’t come up with any more clutch shots.

Goode banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the key for a 71-70 lead, putting the Illini in front for the first time since 10-8.

The Huskers were safely in the NCAA Tournament in this breakout in Hoiberg’s fifth year, boasting the second-most wins in program history. The only time they’ve reached a conference final was 1994, when they won the Big Eight. But maybe Nebraska is becoming a basketball school after all. The women’s team took second-ranked Iowa to overtime in the Big Ten championship game here last week.

Nebraska is the only power conference program that has never won an NCAA Tournament men’s game. The last appearance was 10 years ago.

“I love how this team is playing right now,” Hoiberg said. “We can’t let one game disrupt the good things that have happened with our program.”

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