There were two Big Ten games on the slate on Sunday, with the early game being the game of the day in the conference. With the Michigan State Spartans hosting the 16th ranked and conference title contender Wisconsin Badgers, there were huge NCAA Tournament implications.
In the late game, the struggling Nebraska Cornhuskers hosted the streaking Illinois Fighting Illini.
As we approach the end of the regular season, each game becomes more and more important for these teams trying to gain momentum heading into the conference tournament. Let’s take a look at how the two games on Sunday unfolded:
Game of the Day:
-Michigan State Spartans 84, #16 Wisconsin Badgers 74
This was a huge game for both teams, but Michigan State needed a statement win to really do themselves a favor in the NCAA Tournament bubble talks. Most projections had the Spartans in the tournament, and this win could take a lot of the questions out of it.
On senior day, the Spartans were led by freshmen as they have been for much of the year. Nick Ward finished with 22 points and nine rebounds while playing only 19 minutes due to foul trouble. Miles Bridges contributed 17 points, Cassius Winston came off the bench to finish with 10 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Matt McQuaid also played well for the Spartans, finishing with 15 points.
The Badgers, who have been a great defensive team all season, have struggled defensively in their last two games. After allowing 83 points to an Ohio State team with offensive issues, the Badgers turned around and allowed 84 to the Spartans. Michigan State shot the ball well from the free throw line, finishing 21-23 from the charity stripe as opposed to the 13-25 from the Badgers.
Nigel Hayes led Wisconsin with 22 points and 11 rebounds after struggling in East Lansing last season, and Bronson Koenig finished with 17 points but shot only 5-15 and missed two open looks in the final minute. The Badgers have now lost four of their last five down the stretch.
On February 18th, Michigan State guard Eron Harris suffered a terrible knee injury at Mackey Arena and when he was taken off the court, it appeared that the senior guard would never again step foot on a college basketball court as a player. On Sunday afternoon, senior day in East Lansing, however, that proved to not be the case.
As the Spartans had a 10 point lead with seconds remaining, coach Tom Izzo inserted Eron Harris and fellow senior Matt Van Dyk into the game. Harris, full leg brace and all, limped to center court to an ovation as he took part in the Spartan tradition of kissing center court in their final home game.
-Illinois Fighting Illini 73, Nebraska Cornhuskers 57
This was a fairly competitive game for the first 25 minutes of the contest. Unfortunately, for Nebraska, the game is 40 minutes long and the wheels started to come off in the second half. For a team that started 3-0 in the conference and has faced a lot of health issues, it’s not a surprise where they stand now at 12-16 overall and 6-10 in the conference.
Illinois, meanwhile, has won four of their last five games and now has consecutive 16 point wins. Malcolm Hill led the Fighting Illini with his 19 points on 6-11 shooting and the Illini shot 13-26 from the three point line, which proved to be the difference. Nebraska finished 4-15 from beyond the three point line, and obviously being outscored by 27 from beyond the arc puts any team at an enormous disadvantage.
Tai Webster led the Cornhuskers with his 17 points but was the only player in double figures for his team. Nebraska finished shooting 37.5% from the floor for the game, compared to Illinois’ 48.1%.