CHAMPAIGN --Nebraska came to Illinois as one of the Big Ten's hottest teams.
The Cornhuskers had won five straight and seven of eight to pull themselves into the middle of the Big Ten pack and talk about the post season.
But Nebraska coach Tim Miles sensed his team wasn't right in practice on Tuesday, and leading scorer Terran Petteway thought his team needed as much work as possible before tipoff Wednesday night.
They were right.
The Illini (16-12, 5-10 Big Ten) ended the Cornhuskers' streak with a 60-49 win.
"We didn't practice great yesterday. During the shootaround today, right when we got there, Terran Petteway said coach, 'We've gotta' go full,'" Miles said.
While the Cornhuskers (16-11, 8-7) came in riding high, Illinois was just trying to string together back-to-back wins for the first time since the first two games of the Big Ten season. The Illini hadn't won at home since the second of those games, a win over Penn State.
On Wednesday it was defense and effort that got the win.
"We take huge pride in that. Every night it's going to be defense for us," said Jon Ekey, who finished with eight points and six rebounds off the bench. "Every night that's what we expect to do, shut down what the other team is trying to do to us."
Freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill combined for 23 points for Illinois.
Nunn scored 13 on 4-of-6 shooting for the Illini (16-12, 5-10 Big Ten). He was 3 of 4 from 3-point range. Hill added 10 points and five rebounds.
Rayvonte Rice added 10 point and nine rebounds for the Illini.
Only one Cornhusker, Petteway, finished in double figures. He had 13 points.
Nebraska turned the ball over 15 times and was 0 for 8 from 3-point range in the first half before finishing 3 of 13.
"It was a tough night for the Huskers," Miles said, explaining that Nebraska wasn't patient on offense. "You could just see it on our guys. I call it freaking out."
Over a stretch of just a minute midway through the second half, Illinois turned what had been a tight game into a comfortable contest, opening up a 13-point lead.
It started and ended with buckets by Ekey.
With 10:48 to play the forward sank a 3-pointer, giving the Illini a 46-37 lead.
At the other end, Rice stole the ball from Shavon Shields, broke to the basket and hit a layup.
He was fouled and missed his free throw, but the Illini got the rebound and with 9:49 to play Ekey tipped a ball in that put the Illini up 50-37.
The Cornhuskers could get no closer than eight over the final nine minutes, getting there twice. Both were on layups by Petteway, with 8:13 to play and again with 2:23 left.
Both teams suffered through stretches of frustrating shooting and ball handling.
The Cornhuskers had the worst of it.
They usually hit a solid 34.3 percent of their 3-point shots but their 0 for 8 first half was the biggest reason they were behind at the break, 27-24.
Petteway came in with four straight 20-point games but the Illini shut him down until late. He had just two points in the first half.
And Illinois had something to do with the 15 Nebraska turnovers. Illinois had 11 steals, four of them by Rice.
Illinois coach John Groce credited what he called "total team effort." But he also said his young team is getting better.
"I think just learning the system. It's the same system that we taught in October. I just think we're better at it now," he said. "Repetition builds mastery."
And he believes the Illini can finish strong.
"I still think we have another gear," he said.