Conference play officially started on Tuesday afternoon and the first day of action certainly didn’t let down fans. Not only was there a key overtime matchup between two potential NCAA Tournament contenders, but there were also some surprising results that could shape the conference race down the line.
Here’s a look at all the day’s action.
Big Ten Game of the Day:
-Michigan State 75, Minnesota 74 (OT)
For the first thirty minutes of the game, Michigan State was such trash and Minnesota was so brilliant that one of our writers was prepping the Gophers to receive the conference trophy. Alas, the stretch run evened the game out a bit and we saw exactly what we thought we would: two incredibly flawed but athletic teams struggling to put each other away.
Minnesota really let one slip through their fingers, missing 14 out of a whopping 45 free throw attempts and letting Sparty hang within 10 points in the early second frame. Jordan Murphy dominated the glass, corralling 21 rebounds on the night. But poor shooting from Amir Coffey and Nate Mason certainly didn’t help matters. Neither did some uninspired final play-calling from Richard Pitino, who chose iso-ball with the game in the balance at the end of overtime.
Sparty fans (myself included) shouldn’t get too excited just yet. It was a gritty and impressive comeback, that once again saw Nick Ward shoulder the bulk of the workload with 22 points, 10 boards, and 4 blocks. A win is good news and a welcome sight for Tom Izzo and company. But it’s highly unlikely that Tum Tum Nairn and Alvin Ellis III will ever again quite match their combined 33 points and 5 3-pointers. Ellis’ 20 points tonight are the most he’s had since 16 against Purdue two whole seasons.
Even still, a good victory for Michigan State and a downright bummer for Minnesota.
-Northwestern 87, Penn State 77
The Wildcats took care of business, coming out and punching the Nittany Lions right in the face, zooming to an 18-point second half lead. Scottie Lindsay led all scorers with 31 points on 9-14 shooting. I’m really curious to see how Northwestern matches up against Michigan State on the road on Friday night.
-Maryland 84, Illinois 59
Never in doubt. Malcolm Hill did play very well for the Illini with 21 points and 7 boards, but the Terrapins were too balanced. Trimble had 20, Justin Jackson had 12, Brantley put in 13 off the bench. A good statement for Maryland.
-Wisconsin 72, Rutgers 52
Rutgers may be improved, but the team still hasn’t shown an ability to hang with top competition as the Scarlet Knights fell to just 0-3 on the season against top 100 opponents. Rutgers did pull it within nine points in the second half, but it was too little and too late.
For Wisconsin, Badgers fans should be concerned about Wisconsin’s depth, as all five starters played at least 25 minutes. There is simply no reason that Nigel Hayes (wonderful though he may be) should play 36 minutes in a blowout win.