In yesterday's quadruple-header of Big Ten conference hoops, the four favorites emerged victorious and maintained their respective footholds in what is becoming a hotly contested race in the top half of the Big Ten standings. Maryland and Wisconsin were able to grind out tough road wins, while Michigan State and Iowa cruised to easy home victories over their over-matched opponents.
It was a bit of a sleepy day of basketball in the Midwest but the games count all the same so let's take a look at how it all went down.
Game of the Day: Maryland Terrapins 66, Ohio State Buckeyes 61
Maryland knew that their second matchup with Ohio State this season would be a bit more difficult. Just two weeks earlier, the 8th-ranked Terrapins rolled to a 100-65 home victory over the Buckeyes, Thad Matta's worst loss at Ohio State. This time in Columbus, Ohio State shored up their defense but the offensive struggles remained.
The Terrapins edged ahead late in the first half and was able to maintain a small lead until an old-fashioned three-point play by Marc Loving gave the Buckeyes a 49-48 edge with 6:55 remaining in the contest. The Terrapins did not have a two-point field goal in the final nine minutes of the game, but they quickly regained control late from three-point range and the free-throw line.
Ohio State's ugly free-throw shooting reared its head in this one as they finished 14-for-24 at the line in a five-point loss. The Terrapins held on at the end thanks to a perfect 6-for-6 at the foul stripe in the final minute. The Buckeyes remain in the top half of the conference standings, but they will need to figure out their offensive identity if they wish to mount a late-season run.
Offensive balance remains a strength for the Terrapins, as Melo Trimble, Jake Layman, Diamond Stone, and Robert Carter all finished with double-digit points. Road wins against middle-of-the-pack conference teams can often be crucial in the race to a Big Ten title, and Maryland remains a half game back of Iowa and Indiana for first in the conference with this victory.
Northwestern had a tough task on Sunday, attempting to break a four game losing streak by becoming the first team to win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in nearly a calendar year. It was not to be, as the third-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes went on a 21-2 late in the first half and cruised to an easy double-digit victory over the Wildcats.
Jarrod Uthoff put in a typical Jarrod Uthoff performance with 23 points and 6 rebounds. Hawkeye fans are also thrilled that Peter Jok stuck with grade-school basketball because he enjoyed the postgame trips to McDonald's, as Jok finished with 26 points and finds himself in the middle of a great stretch of basketball. Iowa remains tied at the top of the league with Indiana at 8-1, while it appears Northwestern will have to wait at least one more year for NCAA Tournament glory.
The Badgers kept their faint NCAA Tournament hopes alive with a gritty road victory at the newly-renovated State Farm Center in Champaign. Interim coach Greg Gard has his team on an ugly but effective four-game winning streak, largely due to improved play from veterans Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig.
The Fighting Illini shot a dreadful 36 percent from the field and lost the rebounding battle 37-25, tallying their 12th loss in what has been a disappointing Champaign campaign. Wisconsin improves to 5-4 in the Big Ten and still has a chance to extend its streak of conference play winning seasons to 15 consecutive years. Non-conference struggles in Madison still loom large on the Badgers' tournament resume, however.
The esteemed college basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy predicted that this would be the least competitive NCAA hardwood game on Sunday by a wide margin, and he was right on the money. Mike Williams, Corey Sanders, and Omari Grier combined for 52 of Rutgers' 62 points and the Knights kept it reasonably competitive at the start, trailing by only 11 points at halftime in their program's first-ever game in East Lansing.
The Spartans quickly pulled away at the start of the second half behind Denzel Valentine's 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. Matt Costello also packed the stat sheet with 12 points, 13 boards, 3 blocks, 2 steals, and 2 assists. Looking sharp in their gold Princess Lacey's Laces, the Spartans tied a single-game program record with 17 three-pointers.