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Big Ten Wednesday Recap: Illinois Fighting Illini Escape Piscataway With Wild Victory

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BT Powerhouse recaps Wednesday's trio of Big Ten basketball games.

Corey Sanders drilled this buzzer-beating three to force double overtime but his 39-point night wasn't enough for Rutgers.
Corey Sanders drilled this buzzer-beating three to force double overtime but his 39-point night wasn't enough for Rutgers.
William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland and Iowa each won the type of games top-five teams are expected to win, but a bottom-tier Big Ten matchup stole the spotlight on Wednesday as Illinois denied Rutgers its first Big Ten win in a triple-overtime thriller in New Jersey. It was also an interesting Football Signing Day in Big Ten country but let's take a look at the hardwood action.

Game of the Day: Illinois Fighting Illini 110, Rutgers Scarlet Knights 101 (3 OT)

If you had Wednesday's game in your 'when will Rutgers win its first conference game?' office pool, we offer our condolences regarding your difficult defeat. In a thrilling back-and-forth game, the Fighting Illini finally pulled away from the Knights in the third overtime. Malcolm Hill powered Illinois with 32 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 assists.

Hill drained a mid-range jumper with 10 seconds remaining in regulation to give the Illini a 75-74 lead, but Corey Sanders hurried back down the court and drew a foul with three seconds left. Sanders had a masterful game (39 points, 12 assists) but missed the second free throw that would have potentially given Rutgers the win, especially considering they had fouls to give with only three seconds left.

Sanders also had eight rebounds, set the Rutgers freshman record for points in a game, and was instrumental in forcing a second overtime. Trailing by three, he fired a three-pointer with five seconds left, rebounded his own miss, hurried back behind the arc, and drilled a fadeaway high-arcing buzzer-beater three to tie the game.

Exhaustion set in at this point and neither team scored in the final two minutes of the second overtime. Illinois pulled away in the third and final overtime largely thanks to a perfect 12-for-12 from the free throw stripe. The win doesn't mean much for the Illini other than avoiding the embarrassment of losing to Rutgers, but as meaningless games go, it was fantastic.

The Rest:

-Maryland Terrapins 70, Nebraska Cornhuskers 65

Nebraska and Maryland played a tight game throughout at Pinnacle Bank Arena, but the Cornhuskers haven't fared well at home against the upper echelon of the Big Ten this year and late-game execution by Maryland continued that trend on Wednesday. Diamond Stone piled up an impressive eight blocks against the undersized Huskers and finished two blocks shy of a triple-double.

13 first-half turnovers by the Terrapins kept Nebraska in the game early, and Maryland was unable to pull away for good until two Melo Trimble free throws made the margin five with seven seconds left. The Terrapins added another close victory to their resume and once again find themselves a half-game out of first in the conference. Iowa, Indiana, and Maryland remain the three main contenders to take the Big Ten regular season crown and all three continue to take care of business in the "should-win" games.

-Iowa Hawkeyes 73, Penn State Nittany Lions 49

The 5th-ranked Hawkeyes took a 2-0 lead on the visiting Nittany Lions via an Adam Woodbury dunk 20 seconds into the game and never looked back, coasting to a 24-point home victory in a game they never trailed. The 7'1" Woodbury finished with a career-high 15 rebounds but it was 6'9" Jarrod Uthoff who held the Wednesday night Iowa City block party with five rejections. Uthoff remains first in the Big Ten with 65 blocks on the year and his Hawkeyes jumped over Oklahoma for first place in the national KenPom Rankings with the win.

Forward Brandon Taylor finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, his second-straight game with a double-double for the Lions. Iowa and Indiana remain neck-and-neck at the top of the Big Ten standings with identical 9-1 league records. The co-league leaders will face off twice in the final month of the regular season with the first game coming up a week from Thursday in Bloomington.