With just two weeks until Selection Sunday, the tops teams in the conference look to further establish their case for a high seed in the NCAA tournament while some programs strive to get off the bubble and comfortably land in the big dance.
There were four games on the Sunday slate which featured top programs like the Michigan State Spartans and Iowa Hawkeyes and bubble programs like the Wisconsin Badgers and Michigan Wolverines. Recent bracket projections predict the Badgers and Wolverines making it in the tournament, but the Ohio State Buckeyes have a lot of work left to do in order to make it onto the bracket even after its victory against Iowa.
Let's see how the action played out.
Game of the Night: Ohio State Buckeyes 68, Iowa Hawkeyes 64
In the second of three brutal games to end the Big Ten conference schedule, the Ohio State Buckeyes played host to No. 8 Iowa and managed to get off to a solid start in the first four minutes. The Buckeyes got off to a 7-4 lead by the first media timeout. Junior Marc Loving, the elder statesman for the Buckeyes, got off to a quick start with 11 points on 3-for-3 from the perimeter just 10 minutes into the game.
The Hawkeyes regained the lead by the under-8 timeout thanks to a multitude of scorers contributing. Senior Jarrod Uthoff sparked them early with seven points, while junior guard Peter Jok tallied five. Senior guard Mike Gesell sparked the Hawkeyes with not one, but two thunderous dunks that helped tie the game at 28 at the under-4 timeout. Gesell left his mark on the box score in the first half with 10 points, two steals and two assists, but also picked up his second foul with less than four minutes remaining in the first half. Ohio State took a 35-30 lead into halftime thanks to a 54.2 percent shooting percentage and holding the Hawkeyes to 39.3 percent.
The close scoring game ensued in the early goings of the second half, as Uthoff and Buckeye sophomore Keita Bates-Diop went back and forth in the scoring column. With Peter Jok in foul trouble, Gesell stepped up his scoring output to 14 by the under-12 timeout - he averaged eight points per game heading into the contest.
Jok's absence for parts of the second half proved to be costly in the scoring column for the Hawkeyes, as they struggled to convert on three pointers throughout the day. Iowa cashed in on only 3-for-12 from three point land.
Reserve sophomore guard Kam Williams stepped up in critical moments of the game with a three pointer and by converting on 5-for-11 from the field. After a back and forth tussle in the closing seconds, Keita Bates-Diop blocked a Mike Gesell layup to clinch the much needed victory for the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes needed a strong offensive performance to make up for the absence of Jae'Sean Tate and they got it especially from Marc Loving and Keita Bates-Diop - the duo combined for 44 points. Freshman Mickey Mitchell performed admirably with six points and seven rebounds. Kam Williams led the bench with 11 points. The Buckeyes conclude their regular season on Saturday, March 5 at Michigan State. The game will tipoff at 12:00 p.m. EST and will be televised on ESPN.
Iowa was led Jarrod Uthoff's 16 points and four rebounds. Mike Gesell also tallied 16 points to go along with five assists. Despite foul trouble, Peter Jok came up with 12 points. Iowa will host Indiana on Tuesday, March 1 at 9:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on ESPN.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers came into Champaign with three players suspended from competing against the Fighting Illini. Sophomore point guard Nate Mason, freshman guard Kevin Dorsey and freshman reserve Dupree McBrayer were suspended for violation of team rules.
Despite three players suspended on the road, the Golden Gophers got off to a solid start thanks to freshman big man Jordan Murphy. His motor and relentlessness allowed for easy points around the rim. The fighting Illini didn't have an answer for him in the first half, as Murphy finished the first half with 17 points and eight rebounds. Joey King played well offensively as well in the first half with 11 points.
Illinois freshman guard Jalen Coleman-Lands continued his impressive long-range shooting with four three pointers in the first half to end the first 20 minutes with 12 points.
The Illini stepped up their defensive pressure in the second half which created easy scoring opportunities. Through the first eight minutes, Illinois outscored the Golden Gophers 20-6 and used that offensive onslaught to help build the lead to 61-48 with 10 minutes left.
A strong second half performance by junior Malcolm Hill helped the Illini pull away by double figures for most of the second half. The dynamic duo of Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm hill once again led the way for the Illini. Nunn led Illinois with 25 points while Hill tallied 22. Jalen Coleman-Lands continues to make an impact as a true freshman with 18. Illinois will travel to Maryland and try to spoil the Terrapins senior night on Thursday, March 3. The game will tipoff at 7:00 p.m. EST and will be televised on ESPN.
The Golden Gophers put up a valiant effort in the first half, but were outmanned in the second half with the loss of three key cogs in the lineup. The Gophers were led by freshman Jordan Murphy's 22 points and 10 rebounds. Fellow freshman Stephon Sharp made the most of his newly found starting opportunity with 19 points, while forward Joey King notched 17. Minnesota will play host to Wisconsin on Wednesday, March 2 at 9:00 p.m. EST on the Big Ten Network.
-Michigan State Spartans 88, Penn State Nittany Lions 57
Conference Player of the Year candidate Denzel Valentine got off to a slow start by missing his first six shots, but managed to pick it up as the game progressed to help carry the Spartans to a convincing win over the Nittany Lions. Michigan State beat Penn State by 27 at Penn State back in early January.
The Nittany Lions had won four of their last five heading into Sunday's game against Michigan State which featured wins over Indiana and Iowa. Facing the Spartans in East Lansing proved to be too much to overcome.
Michigan State had to combat a slow offensive performance with a stifling defense and team rebounding, and the Spartans did just that. The Nittany Lions shot just 32.2 percent from the field on 19-for-59 shooting. The perimeter defense for the Spartans was just as suffocating, as they forced Penn State to 9-for-22 from the perimeter.
Denzel Valentine continued to showcase his well-rounded skill set with 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Sharpshooter Bryn Forbes and freshman Deyonta Davis each tallied 15 points and Matt Costello poured in 10 points and hauled in 11 rebounds. The Spartans will have their second to last tilt of the regular season on Wednesday, March 2 against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. The game will tip at 7:00 p.m. EST and will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
Penn State was led by Shep Garner's 22 points and Payton Bank's 12. Senior guard Devin Foster notched 11 points off the bench. The Nittany Lions had a tough time against the physical Spartans on the glass, as they were out rebounded 51-33. Penn State will look to get back on track against Northwestern Thursday, March 3 at 9:00 p.m. Est. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
-Wisconsin Badgers 68, Michigan Wolverines 57
In what was hyped up as the biggest bubble matchup in the conference, the Wolverines and Badgers put a back-and-forth battle on display in Madison.
The Wolverines came into this game as one of the best long-range shooting teams in the conference, but a stingy Wisconsin defense forced Michigan to change up their offensive schemes. Wolverine coach John Beilein adjusted well with curl screens and getting open looks near the rim. Junior forward Zak Irvin led the way in the first half with 12 points.
Badgers coach Greg Gard continues to build his conference Coach of the Year résumé as he has developed his roster into a team full of playmakers. The talk all offseason was who was going to turn into the third scoring option, and towards the end of the season, Redshirt freshman big man Ethan Happ has developed into a formidable low post threat. Happ's work on the low block continued to be problematic for the opposition.
Wisconsin's stingy defense continued throughout the second half of the game, and the balanced scoring attack of the Badgers allowed the Badgers to pull away late in front of the home crowd on senior night. With 30 seconds remaining, coach Gard subbed in Jordan Smith, the lone senior on the roster as a chance for Smith to create some lasting memories with a double figure lead at Wisconsin's disposal.
The Badgers were led in the scoring column by point guard Bronson Koenig who poured in 19 points. Nigel Hayes notched 16, forward Vitto Brown totaled 16 and Happ finished with 12. The Badgers played great perimeter defense all night long and held Michigan to 5-for-13 from deep. The Badgers continue to end their regular season on a high note with a tilt at Minnesota on Wednesday, March 2. The game will tipoff at 9:00 p.m. EST and will be shown on the Big Ten Network.
Michigan was led by Zak Irvin who totaled 14 points and eight rebounds, while Derrick Walton Jr. and Duncan Robinson each notched 10. Reserve big man Ricky Doyle contributed 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting from the field. The Wolverines close out their regular season on Saturday, March 5 as they host the Iowa Hawkeyes at 8:00 p.m. EST on the Big Ten Network.