The 2016 Big Ten Tournament tipped off Wednesday night as the bottom four seeds in the tournament got things started. Illinois and Minnesota got things started in the 12 vs. 13 matchup, while Nebraska and Rutgers played the late game in the 11 vs. 14.
Playing in the first day of the Big Ten tournament means you'll have to win 5 games in 5 nights to win it all. While this is not a realistic goal for any of the teams playing on opening night, getting a win or two to build momentum for your respective program is. That's exactly what the four teams playing Wednesday night were trying to do; survive and advance.
Let's take a look at Wednesday's action.
Game of the Night: Rutgers Scarlet Knights 72, Nebraska Cornhuskers 89
Throughout the first half, Rutgers seemed like a team capable of hanging with the 11 seeded Cornhuskers. The Scarlet Knights were getting contributions from all over the place in the opening 20 minutes, including 7 points off the bench from Omari Grier.
The first half included 13 lead changes as the teams went back in forth in a rather entertaining offensive game. In the end, Nebraska made the last two buckets of the first half, giving themselves a 37-33 lead at the break.
Despite a tough shooting night (3-12) for Corey Sanders, the freshman guard pulled his team even at 43-43 with a big three in the second half. Nebraska, however, would answer with a run that would put the game out reach for good. The Cornhuskers reeled off 17 of the next 19 points and took a 60-45 lead with under 12 minutes to go. Tim Miles' saw 5 different players score during the pivotal run that was capped by a layup from Ed Morrow.
Rutgers was never able to get the deficit back to single digits as the Scarlet Knights ended up falling 89-72. Senior guard Bishop Daniels had a nice night for Eddie Jordan scoring 13 points and adding 4 assists and 4 rebounds. Omari Grier also had a solid final collegiate game as he came off the bench and scored 12 points on 4-5 shooting.
Nebraska got a great performance from senior Shavon Shields, who willed his team to win with 20 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. Tai Webster (18), Andrew White (16), and Michael Jacobson (14) all also finished in double digits for Tim Mile's team. Nebraska will look to keep their season alive as they face Wisconsin on Thursday night.
When you're roster is depleted, and you are left with just five scholarship players, you need a little luck to win a game. Minnesota didn't get any Wednesday night as the Illinois Fighting Illini shot 14-26 from deep and rolled over the Golden Gophers 85-52.
The Illini could smell blood early against an undermanned Minnesota team as they never even let the Golden Gophers have a lead Wednesday night. Michael Finke made an impact early off the bench for Illinois with two quick threes, increasing their lead to 17-8.
Illinois continued to stretch their lead out as they led by double digits for the final 10 minutes of the first half. As if this wasn't enough, the Fighting Illini closed the half on an 8-2 run to give them a 38-22 halftime lead.
With such a shorthanded lineup, there was only so much Richard Pitino could say to his team at halftime. Whatever he did say, however, worked as the Golden Gophers played even with the Illini for the first half of the final 20 minutes.
With 10 minutes left and their lead at 15, Illinois went on a run that would put the game away for good. The Fighting Illini scored 27 of the next 32 points and stretched their advantage to 80-43. In the end, Minnesota just didn't have enough talent on their roster to hang with Illinois, ultimately falling 85-52.
The Fighting Illini will move on to face Iowa in the 2nd round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday. Along with Finke's five three pointers off the bench, Kendrick Nunn was very efficient for John Groce's team shooting 6-8 for 15 points. Illinois will look to continue their hot shooting from deep against a Hawkeyes team that lost 5 of their last 7 games.
In a lot of ways, the end of the season couldn't come soon enough for Richard Pitino's team. They've had injuries, suspensions, and releases all in the past month of the season. Freshman Jordan Murphy couldn't get anything going Wednesday as he shot just 3-14 from the field scoring 9 points. Minnesota will have a lot of re-grouping to do in the off-season to be able to come back and compete in 2016-17.