There were five Big Ten games today, with both ranked teams falling to unranked opponents, while several of the teams in the Big Ten basement also were active today.
Game of the Night: Wisconsin 70 Maryland 57
While the Purdue and Michigan game might have been more competitive, this game between the Badgers and Terrapins had decisively bigger implications overall. Remember when everyone held the Badgers eulogy earlier last month? Well now the Badgers have won seven games in a row, including wins over Indiana and now Maryland. While the Badgers were on the outside looking in heading into the weekend, it's hard to imagine the Badgers not starting to sneak onto the right side of the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. With Michigan State coming up on Thursday, Wisconsin could solidify their postseason odds with another big win next week.
As for today, it wasn't always pretty, but Wisconsin played their typical slow paced game, utilizing their suffocating defense to keep the second ranked Terps at bay. Holding Maryland to only 21 points in the first half, as well as only 40% shooting from the field, Wisconsin opened up a double digit lead and then managed to answer every Maryland run to keep the game out of reach. Vitto Brown had a big day with 21 points, while three other starters all reached double digits. While the Badgers only shot 41.1% from the field, 12 of their 23 made field goals were three pointers, which was ultimately the difference in tonight's game.
The loss tonight was the first for Maryland at home in the Big Ten, with their two prior losses happening at Michigan and Michigan State. The Terrapins haven't always looked as impressive as they've been hyped up to be and looked flat throughout the duration of today's game. Things won't get any easier either with Michigan and Purdue coming up after a road trip to Minnesota. The Terrapins saw a strong day from Rasheed Sulaimon, but typically clutch Melo Trimble was ice cold today as he was held to a horrific 1 of 14 shooting performance while also committing five turnovers.
Michigan 61 Purdue 56
We have a longer recap of the game over here, but this afternoon's game was another example of Purdue struggling in the second half. This is a team that has now lost two entirely winnable games (at Maryland, at Michigan) due to their inability to finish strong, with Michigan closing on a 11-0 run. The Boilermakers did more than enough throughout the first 35 or so minutes to win this game, but a cold streak at the worst possible moment allowed Michigan to sneak back in front and steal a much needed win. The Boilermakers frontcourt had a rough shooting performance, though the same could be said for Wolverines guard Derrick Walton Jr., who was held to 1 of 10 shooting before making several clutch free throws.
The key to the game for Michigan was guard Zak Irvin, who was the only Michigan player to reach double digits as he added 22 points and kept Michigan around long enough to eventually make a run at the end. Michigan also benefited from keeping control of the ball, committing only six turnovers on the day.
Ohio State 79 Rutgers 69
The Buckeyes are probably done when it comes to making it back to the NCAA Tournament, though they could reenter the picture if they come close to winning out heading into the Big Ten Tournament. That means today's road trip to Rutgers was a must win and Thad Matta's program found a way to get it down. After a hot start for the Buckeyes, Ohio State could never truly put Rutgers away, but they also managed to keep the game well enough out of reach from the Scarlet Knights. A lot of that had to do with Jae'Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop, who combined for 46 points on 19 of 27 shooting. Also of note, Kam Williams added an additional 19 points off the bench and the Buckeyes were able to overcome a ghastly 19 turnovers.
As for Rutgers, it would honestly be somewhat interesting if Eddie Jordan could find someone to contribute at or near the same level as Corey Sanders. The freshman added 23 points for the Scarlet Knights but the rest of his teammates couldn't get it going and a thin Rutgers team didn't have the firepower to deal with a Ohio State team that out shot them (50.8% vs. 38.5%) and out rebounded them by a 46-33 margin. If the 6-19 Scarlet Knights are going to find a win this season it's going to have to come soon, with Illinois up next. While the remaining schedule isn't exactly murder's row, three of the five more winnable games come on the road.
Nebraska 70 Penn State 54
Penn State basketball under Pat Chambers has became formulaic, with the team typically showing signs of getting there only to fall right back down in trainwreck fashion. That's what happened once again this weekend, with Penn State following an impressive upset of Indiana with a lifeless loss to Nebraska this afternoon. It's hard to win on the road in the Big Ten, even more so when your best player shoots a dreadful 3 of 14 from the field, but the blame can't be pinned solely on Shep Garner as the Nittany Lions were held to 38.2% from the field and 26.1% from beyond the arc. Mix in 17 turnovers and you have a recipe for disaster, especially when your opponent hits 46.3% of their shots and has a strong day from outside (8 of 18 from deep).
Leading the way for the Cornhuskers was Andrew White, filling the void of Shavon Shields as he led Nebraska with an impressive 35 points. Shooting 11 of 17 today, including 6 of 10 from three and hitting all seven of his free throws, White easily had one of the most impressive performances of the week in the conference. At one point in the first half Penn State held a 31-27 lead before Nebraska rattled off a 39-7 run, with White contributing 18 points during the streak.
Illinois XX Northwestern XX
Illinois and Northwestern have both been dreadful to watch quite a bit this season, so I'm sure the idea of spending a Saturday night watching the two teams square off had appeal limited outside of the state of Illinois. The first half didn't exactly do much to change that notion, with the Illini entering the break with a 23-21 lead. The two teams both spent the first half shooting the ball poorly and repeatedly turning it over, with Northwestern turning the ball over 10 times during the first 20 minutes, but the Illini's five three pointers were enough to create a slim advantage.
While things didn't pick up statistically in the second half, the two teams managed to create an entertaining game as Northwestern managed to hold off the Illini to win 58-56. The Wildcats only committed two turnovers in the second half and Tre Demps and Scottie Lindsey combined to score 36 of their teams 58 points. The game went back and forth down the stretch and the Illini somehow almost overcame only making one field goal over the last 4:47 when Kendrick Nunn hit a huge three to cut the deficit to two with 43 seconds to go. While Illinois was able to stop Northwestern on the next possession, they couldn't get a shot off in the final seconds and suffered another defeat in a rough season for John Groce and company.