The penultimate day of Big Ten Tournament basketball action did not disappoint, as we saw four solid basketball teams battle it out for the right to play on Sunday for the championship trophy. Adding another good win to the resume was also of paramount importance for every team in action, with three of the teams looking to improve their NCAA tournament seed and the fourth needing a win to guarantee a trip to the Big Dance.
Let's take a close look at how the two games went down and what the results mean for each of the teams.
Semifinal One: #13 Purdue Boilermakers 76, Michigan Wolverines 59
The cards were stacked against the Wolverines in this one, as they came into this game already having slogged through two tough tournament wins over Northwestern and Indiana. Purdue arrived about as fresh as a team could possibly be on BTT Saturday, having cruised to an easy quarterfinal victory over an over-matched Illinois team in their only tournament game.
Michigan hung tough at the start, but the Boilermakers edged their way to a eight-point halftime lead and took control with a 9-0 run to start the second half. The Wolverines cut it to a 6-point deficit with 7:35 remaining in the game but were only able to score a total of five points against the stingy Boilermakers defense in the final seven minutes.
Purdue fed senior center A.J. Hammons in the post early and often and Michigan had no answer for his masterful play in the paint. He finished 11-for-17 from the field and accrued 27 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks, and a steal. The Boilers leveraged their overall team size and strength into a decisive 41-26 rebounding edge. On the other side of the ball, Michigan needed a great three-point shooting day but shot only 24% on 25 attempts from behind the arc; Indianapolis-area native Zak Irvin finished a disappointing 1-for-7 from three-point land.
The Boilermakers continued their run of excellent basketball and will be a difficult team to beat in Sunday's championship game, their first appearance in the title game since 2009. Matt Painter has his team in a groove and they are knocking on the door for a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament. John Beilein's team had a good tournament overall with important wins over Northwestern and Indiana, but they will be sweating it out until Sunday's tournament selection show. Michigan will be rooting against the other bubble teams still playing and hoping that the tournament committee happens to like their resume a bit more than other teams in bubble purgatory.
Semifinal Two: #2 Michigan State Spartans 64, #18 Maryland Terrapins 61
This game had the potential to be a thriller coming in and it certainly lived up to the hype. Michigan State grabbed the lead five minutes in and extended it up to as many as 12 points late in the first half, but the Terrapins did enough to stay in range of the Spartans and a Melo Trimble three-pointer with 10:27 remaining in the game tied it up at 53 points apiece. It was a fascinating battle of defensive wills down the stretch and the two teams remained no more than three points apart in the final ten minutes of the game.
Holding on to a one-point lead in the final minute, MSU's Deyonta Davis blocked a Diamond Stone hook at the top of its apex with only 30 seconds left in the game. After an exchange of two Denzel Valentine free throws and a Trimble layup, Valentine failed to extend State's 1-point lead after missing the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw.
Maryland had a chance to take the lead with 10 seconds left but Trimble was unable to finish a wild layup attempt. Valentine then angered coach Tom Izzo by making both of his free throws with 0.8 seconds left, which allowed timeout-less Maryland to set up a three-point opportunity from the inbound pass. Eron Harris was way too close to Trimble on Melo's final heave and tempted the officials to make a foul call, but the whistles remained silent and Michigan State survived with a 64-61 victory.
The pursuit for a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament continues for Michigan State, and Spartans fans will be playing close attention to today's championship games in the Big 12, ACC, and Big East. Unfortunately, the murkiness of how much the tournament committee actually weighs the late-Sunday afternoon Big Ten championship game for seeding purposes may play a role in keeping the Spartans off the one-line even if they defeat Purdue tomorrow. As for Maryland, they played reasonably well overall in this tournament, but questions remain as to whether they can correctly figure out the formula that will elevate them to making a deep run in the Big Dance that their talent level suggests they can make.