''Nunn had a great game on us,'' Yale coach James Jones said. ''He was really unstoppable.''
Illinois (5-5) took a 33-25 lead into the locker room, but Yale (5-4) stormed back behind a 12-0 run early in the second half to take a 37-35 lead.
Makai Mason hit a jumper and made a layup to pull Yale within three with two minutes left but the Bulldogs committed four turnovers and made just 1 of 4 field goals from there.
''We were uncharacteristically poor at handling the basketball tonight,'' Jones said.
The Bulldogs committed 23 turnovers which Illinois converted into 25 points.
Nunn hit a 3 to make it 66-60 with 1:25 remaining and his two free throws with two seconds to plays sealed it for Illinois.
''I was proud of the fact that we got punched in the mouth at the start of the second half on a 15-3 run and our guys really responded down two,'' Illinois coach John Groce said. ''They just buckled down and made the plays that we needed to make.''
The State Farm Center crowd urged the Illini to run away with the lead when Hill put in a contested layup to tie the game at 49-49.
Nunn then sent the hometown crowd into a frenzy with his fifth 3-pointer, giving Illinois a 52-49 lead with 8:24 to go. Jaylon Tate ran back on defense with his fists in the air in celebration.
Much different than the fist Groce put into the scorer's table as Sears scored an easy lay-in to temporarily put the Bulldogs up 44-42 a few minutes prior.
Illinois: Illinois guard Kendrick Nunn has scored double-digits in all five games since returning to the lineup on Nov. 27 after a preseason thumb injury forced him to miss the team's first five games. Nunn scored a career-high 28 points Wednesday night against Yale, just four days after scoring 27 against Western Carolina on Saturday.
Yale: The Bulldogs outrebounded Illinois 48-25, including an 17-7 advantage on the offensive glass, but the teams each scored 11 second-chance points.
Illinois plays Illinois-Chicago on Saturday at the United Center.
Yale visits Southern California on Sunday.
FINDING THE FORMULA
Illinois' starting lineup against Yale was head coach John Groce's ninth different starting combination in 10 games this season. The Illini have dealt with a handful of injuries early in the season, temporarily losing guards Kendrick Nunn (dislocated thumb) and Jaylon Tate (fractured finger), and forward Leron Black (torn meniscus). The latest Illini player sidelined with injury is forward Mike Thorne Jr. (torn meniscus). Fifth-year point guard Tracy Abrams is also out for the season with a torn Achilles.