The Huskers (13-10, 5-6 Big Ten) pulled away with the help of a defense that held Illinois to two field goals over the last 6:57. Terran Petteway added 16 points as the Huskers raised their record to 11-1 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Shields bettered his previous high of 29 points against Penn State last season. He made 8 of 12 shots from the field, and his 15-for-15 night at the line was the best for Nebraska since Jack Moore made all 15 of his against Oklahoma State in 1982. The Huskers were 24 of 27 from the line, 14 of 17 in the second half.
Rayvonte Rice scored 23 points to lead the Illini (14-11, 3-9), which shot 37 percent and has lost nine of its last 10. Nnanna Egwu had 12 rebounds for Illinois, which is in the middle of a stretch of playing on the road in three of four games.
The Huskers got a scare when Shields hobbled to bench with 7:46 left with a tweaked knee. He went to the locker room for treatment and came back less than a minute later.
Right after checking back in he went strong to the basket, got fouled and completed a three-point play for a 55-49 Nebraska lead.
Nebraska missed four of its first five shots of the second half, then scored 10 straight points to go up 44-40. It was the last of 11 lead changes in the game.
Shields converted a three-point play and finished the run with a smooth move in the lane, taking a step toward Jon Ekey and then fading back for a one-handed jumper from the free-throw line.
Rice made the play of the game when he stole a pass from Petteway and drove the length of the floor, taking the ball around his back before going under the hoop for a left-handed layup with 8:19 left. The Illini couldn't build off the razzle dazzle, though. Walter Pitchford answered on the other end with a 3-pointer to start a game-clinching 13-3 run.
The Huskers led 31-30 at the half after Nathan Hawkins rebounded Rice's missed free throw with 5 seconds left and passed to Ray Gallegos, who drove to the basket around Egwu for a layup just before the buzzer.
Tracy Abrams, who came as the Illini's second-leading scorer at 11.5 points a game, got into foul trouble and was held to three points. He was 0 for 4 from the field and is now 2 for 17 in his last three games.