The Indiana Hoosiers had lost three games going into Sunday's matchup with the Penn St. Nittany Lions in Bloomington. Over the course of their three game losing streak, the Hoosiers had turned the ball over 49 times, while generating only 35 assists. If Indiana was going to beat Penn State, they were going to have to solve their turnover woes; as a result of the aforementioned turnover-assist ratio, the Hoosiers had lost games in which they shot 43%, 43%, and 51% from the floor. The problem wasn't shooting; the problem was that the Hoosiers were a turnover machine.
Against Penn State, the Hoosiers had 10 assists and just 9 turnovers. Neither number is especially impressive, but the 9 turnovers is a fairly significant reduction from the 16.3 that Indiana had averaged over its 3-game losing streak, and Indiana's ability to hold on to the ball helped massively against a Penn State team that came in reeling from the news of Joe Paterno's death.
The Wisconsin Badgers had won in 3 of their past 5 trips to Champaign-Urbana, and looked to make it 4 of 6. The 22nd ranked Illinois Fighting Illini were going to be a tough challenge, however, but Wisconsin's defense was up to the task of holding Meyers Leonard and Brandon Paul in check. At the end of the half, the Badgers and Illini were tied up at 26 apiece, but the Leonard-Paul duo had generated all of 4 points between them. The Badgers were unable to truly put the Illini away thanks to multiple missed free throws; the Badgers at one point were 1 of 8 in that department and finished with a 55% success rate at the stripe, well below their season average (71.7). Late in the game, however, the Badgers put the finishing touches on Illinois from the stripe and Jordan Taylor hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final minutes to seal Wisconsin's 67-63 win, their 2nd against a team previously undefeated at home (the other was against Purdue).
To cap off the day, the Northwestern Wildcats traveled to Minneapolis looking to shake off a 20-point loss at Wisconsin, but instead, Bill Carmody's Wildcats managed to fall into an early hole against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Tubby Smith's squad never gave the Wildcats a chance, coasting to a 41-24 halftime lead and an eventual 75-52 win at home.
Indiana found that Penn State would not die on them in the first half, and actually trailed at the break, 29-27. But their efforts against Penn State eventually led to a comfortable win, thanks to Jordan Hulls and Cody Zeller. Zeller led the team with 18 points on a brisk 7 of 8 shooting and Hulls contributed 14 points of his own. Christian Watford, who had been a bit of a turnover machine in Indiana's losses to Minnesota and Ohio State (committing 4 turnovers in each game), only committed 2 turnovers against Penn State, and added 11 points and 2 blocks to help IU win for the first time since January 8th (also against Penn State). Zeller led the Hoosiers in blocks with 4, while Watford led in rebounds with 7. Two Hoosiers split the team-lead for assists, with Verdell Jones III and Hulls recording 3 assists each.
Penn State faded down the stretch after leading at the half in Bloomington, leading to a disappointing result. One of the biggest problems was that the Nittany Lions recorded 5 assists. The Hoosiers swatted away 6 Penn State shot attempts and had as many steals as the Nittany Lions had assists. 7 missed free throws cost Tom Chambers's team down the stretch, and Matt Glover was the primary culprit, missing 6 of his 9 free throw attempts. Tim Frazier put in 21 points on 7 of 18 shooting, but committed 3 turnovers to 1 assist and found himself in foul trouble late in the game. Glover led the Nittany Lions in rebounds, with 7, but fouled out of the game. 5 different Penn State players recorded an assist, but they shared the dubious distinction of leading the team with 1 assist apiece. Cameron Woodyard struggled horribly, shooting 2 of 11, and as a whole, Penn State's offense sputtered down the stretch. The Nittany Lions shot 34% on the day and 23% from beyond the arc.
On the day, both teams combined for four technical fouls, with Ross Travis and Nick Colella of Penn State picking up one apiece and Will Sheehey being ejected after committing a second late in the game. The officials were quite happy to blow the whistles with reckless abandon, and both teams combined for 48 personal fouls and 46 free throw attempts.
By contrast, Wisconsin and Illinois played a fairly clean game. Wisconsin got to the line 18 times, but simply couldn't convert time and again. Jordan Taylor struggled from the charity stripe early in the game and went into the half having just 5 points. While Taylor shook off the woeful shooting bug late in the game when Wisconsin needed him, he finished 5 of 15 from the floor and 7 of 11 from the free throw line. Sloppy play by Ryan Evans and Rob Wilson led to the duo recording 6 of Wisconsin's 10 turnovers, and Evans held the dubious honor of leading Wisconsin in that department with 4. However, where Evans and Wilson struggled, Jared Berggren picked up the slack, recording 18 points on 50% shooting from the floor and beyond the arc. Berggren's defense led to him picking up 3 fouls, but he shut down Meyers Leonard in the first half, holding the Illini C to just 2 points.
Taylor led Wisconsin with team-highs in points, rebounds, and assists, recording 19, 9, and 5, respectively. 4 different Badgers recorded a steal, and Jared Berggren had the only real block of the game for either side.
Illinois was probably more than happy to get 63 points from Brandon Paul in their last 2 games, but against Wisconsin, Paul struggled horribly, recording just 10 points on 3 of 11 shooting. Meyers Leonard had team-highs in both points and rebounds (16 and 11), coming up with 14 points in the 2nd half. With Paul and Leonard struggling, Joseph Bertrand and D.J. Richardson stepped it up, recording 28 points between them. However, Illinois generated 0 points from the bench and only 8 assists, turning the ball over 9 times and shooting under 30% in the first half. While Bruce Weber's squad managed to shoot significantly better in the 2nd half, it was too little, too late for the Fighting Illini, who suffered their first home loss of the season. Wisconsin improves to 3-1 on the road in Big Ten conference play.
Minnesota had lost their first 4 conference games, but had rebounded nicely with a road win at 11th ranked Indiana and a 14-point victory over Penn State. Under Tubby Smith, Minnesota has never lost to Northwestern in Minneapolis. The Gophers recorded significantly more rebounds than the Wildcats (outrebounding Northwestern 40-28), and came away with 10 steals. Five Minnesota players scored in double-digits, and, as a team, the Gophers shot 57% from the floor. Ralph Sampson III, Rodney Williams, Austin Hollins, Julian Welch, and Joe Coleman combined for more points than the Wildcats had as a team (62-52).
John Shurna is still the Big Ten's leading scorer, but Minnesota's defense frustrated him all game long and Shurna recorded 21 points on 21 shot attempts, making just 3 of 9 attempts from downtown. Drew Crawford shot terribly on the game (2 of 10 from the floor), as did Dave Sobolewski (0 of 5, 0 points) and only Alex Marcotullio joined Shurna in double-figures scoring, with 11. The Wildcats shot 32% from the floor and an abysmal 40% from the free throw line.
Minnesota extends their conference winning streak to 3, while Northwestern is still winless on the road in conference play.
Wisconsin: vs. Indiana (January 26th, 8:00 PM CST)
Illinois: at Minnesota (January 28th, 7:00 PM CST)
Indiana: at Wisconsin (January 26th, 8:00 PM CST)
Minnesota: at Michigan State (January 25th, 8:30 PM EST)
Northwestern: vs. Purdue (January 28th, 4:00 PM CST)
Penn State: at Ohio State (January 25th, 6:30 PM EST)