Tuesday night brought in a pair of teams looking to remain well in the Big Ten title hunt. Michigan State, riding a 2-game winning streak powered by the dependable Draymond Green, traveled to Champaign-Urbana to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini. At the end of the night, the Spartans left Illinois with a bitter pill of a 42-41 loss and an injured Draymond Green.
The Wisconsin Badgers, winners of their past 5 games, looked to beat the Penn St. Nittany Lions in the Bryce Jordan Center, where they had lost 56-52 a season before. While they struggled horribly in the first half shooting the ball and trailed by six at the break, the Badgers came out swinging in the second half and knocked off Pat Chambers's squad to improve to 7-3 in the Big Ten, taking 2nd place in the conference heading into a very crucial game with power Ohio State.
Both Illinois and Wisconsin were able to come away with low-scoring wins, in part because of great defense, in part also because of bad shooting. Draymond Green's injury was hardly what MSU needed on a night where they shot a pitiful 24% from the field and 21% from beyond the arc, and the sputtering Spartan offense never truly put the Illini away. While Illinois also shot rather poorly (especially from the free throw line, where they were just 9 of 17 in a game where every miss could haunt them), they never truly fell apart. And as they had done against Ohio State, the Fighting Illini held on to knock off a ranked opponent in Assembly Hall.
Wisconsin entered the game against Penn State with one of the best defenses in the nation, and held the Nittany Lions to 23 points in the first half. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, the first half offense was simply atrocious, and the Badgers had just 17 points of their own. Wisconsin survived a 10-0 run by the Nittany Lions in the first half, and seized the momentum of the game before the half on a Jordan Taylor layup as time expired. In the 2nd half, Bo Ryan's Badgers wrested control of the game from the Nittany Lions early on and endured the best efforts of Tim Frazier until the final buzzer sounded, giving Wisconsin its 7th conference win and 4th on the road.Illinois was powered by Brandon Paul's 18 points. However, Paul needed 17 shot attempts to score those points and was 1 of 6 from beyond the arc. In addition, Paul led the Illini with 4 turnovers. It wasn't close to the incredible effort against Ohio State, but it was enough to pull the Illini over the Spartans. Aside from Paul, no Illinois player reached double-figures scoring, although D.J. Richardson came close, scoring 9 (on 4 of 12 shooting, also going 1 of 6 from 3-point range). Meyers Leonard wasn't a force offensively, and scored only 4 points, but he had 3 crucial blocks. Illinois was just 9 of 17 from the free throw line and 3 of 17 from beyond the arc on the night, but they survived a game in which they turned the ball over 12 times to 8 assists.
Michigan State had 3 players attempt 10 or more shots. However, those three players managed to combine for just 8 made shots on 32 attempts. Keith Appling was 1 of 11 from the floor, Branden Dawson 4 of 11, and Adreian Payne 3 of 10. Whatever Michigan State tried offensively simply didn't work; both Appling and Green had the dubious distinction of sharing the team-lead in turnovers with 5 each and the Spartans had 17 turnovers to just 4 assists. Dawson had the team lead in rebounds with 13 (including 7 offensive rebounds). Appling missed a shot that would have won the game as time expired, a sadly fitting end to a truly dreadful night for the sophomore guard. While the Spartans struggled badly from the floor, they shot 83% from the free throw line.
Wisconsin had Jordan Taylor take control of the game from the free throw line late in the game when the Badgers needed him to step up, but his struggles early on were reason for concern. However, Taylor finished with a team-high 5 assists to 0 turnovers. Ryan Evans was key in the Badger's hot start, but fizzled out down the stretch. Ben Brust was sick going into the game, and the Badgers didn't know if he would play or not tonight. Brust took the court regardless of his illness...and then went 0 for 4 from the floor and 0 for 3 from beyond the arc, recording no points. Jared Berggren recorded a team-high 10 rebounds and 2 blocks, along with 8 points. Reserves Frank Kaminsky and Rob Wilson both stepped onto the floor and drained crucial threes, a necessity considering how badly Wisconsin's starting 5 shot the 3 on the night (3 of 13). The Badgers finished the game 13 of 19 from the free throw line.
Penn State managed to keep pace with Wisconsin thanks to Tim Frazier's 21 points, but Frazier needed 22 shots to get those points. Frazier led the Nittany Lions with 7 assists (3 more than the Spartans had as a team against Illinois), while Jermaine Marshall added 13 of his own to keep Penn State's hopes of an upset alive. 4 different Penn State players had 5 rebounds to split the team lead (Matt Glover, Cammeron Woodyard, Jonathan Graham, & Marshall). Pat Chambers's Nittany Lions were 8 of 14 from the free throw line.
Wisconsin: vs. #3 Ohio State (February 4th, 1:00 PM CST)
Michigan State: vs. #23 Michigan (February 5th, 1:00 PM EST)
Illinois: vs. Northwestern (February 5th, 2:00 PM CST)
Penn State: at Iowa (February 4th, 2:00 PM CST)
Conference Standings After Tonight:
Wisconsin: 7-3, 2nd Big Ten
Michigan State: 6-3, T-3rd Big Ten (with Michigan)
Illinois: 5-4, T-5th Big Ten (with Purdue)
Penn State: 2-8, 12th Big Ten