There were two games taking place tonight, both involving teams tied for first place in the Big Ten heading into the night. Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night
Illinois Fighting Illini 79, #9 Michigan State Spartans 74
What happens when you shoot 58.8% from the field, 42.9% from three, hit 9 of 10 free throws and out rebound your opponent in the first half? You usually enter the break with a lead, most likely a sizable one. Unfortunately for the Spartans, though, that simply did not happen as they ended the first half down 32-41.
So what happened?
Turnovers. The Spartans committed a whopping 17 turnovers in the first half, seven of which were committed by point guard Cassius Winston. Illinois ended up scoring 18 points off of turnovers (compared to Michigan State’s 2 points) and shot 15 more field goals than the Spartans. Early in the second half it was more of the same for Illinois, quickly opening up a 14 point lead in the opening minutes of the second.
Michigan State eventually got it going in the second half while Illinois went on a poorly timed scoring drought, going almost nine minutes (13:01-4:15) without making a field goal while seeing their 14 point lead turn into a 3 point deficit.
With the game tied at 68 the Illini retook the lead with a pair of Ayo Dosunmu three pointers, pushing the lead to six with 1:54 remaining. In the closing two minutes Michigan State had a few bad offensive sets, looking lost at times, while Illinois made their free throws to keep the Spartans at bay for the upset.
When everything was said and done, Michigan State still out shot and out rebounded the Illini, also dramatically improving their free throw shooting (23 of 25) from the debacle against Indiana. They couldn’t make up for the 24 turnovers, though, with the Illini scoring 28 points off of turnovers. It was a rough night for Cassius Winston in particular, who ended up with 9 turnovers, overshadowing his 21 points and 9 assists.
The loss puts Michigan State in a tough spot as they entered the night in a three way tie for first with Michigan and Purdue and couldn’t afford a loss to a team like Illinois. Things won’t get much easier down the stretch, either, with two games remaining against Michigan, as well as road trips to Wisconsin and Indiana while hosting an improved Minnesota, Ohio State and Nebraska.
#7 Michigan Wolverines 77, Rutgers Scarlet Knights 65
The other team at top of the Big Ten playing tonight was the Wolverines as they traveled to New Jersey to face off against Rutgers. Fortunately for Michigan, things went better for them then it did for their in-state rivals.
Michigan got off to a quick start against the Scarlet Knights, opening up a 17 point lead nine minutes into the game. The Wolverines would hold that lead until the last media timeout. Rutgers closed the half on a strong note, using a quick 9-0 run to narrow the lead to single digits and keeping the game at a more manageable deficit than it was most of the half. Throughout the second half the Wolverines once again kept the lead in the double digits, with Rutgers eventually narrowing down the gap to eight points in the closing minutes.
While Rutgers was able to keep the game within reach, they could never get over the hump and Michigan ultimately cruised to a 77-65 victory.
Ignas Brazdeikis led the Wolverines in scoring with 23 points on 8 of 14 shooting. Four starters for Michigan reached double figures while Michigan shot 44.8% from the field, 47.8% from three, 82.4% from the line and only committed seven turnovers. Rutgers had a big night from Eugene Omoruyi, who led the team with 21 points, while Montez Mathis added 12. No other Scarlet Knight reached double figures, with the team shooting 41.4% from the field and 41.7% from deep. While Rutgers didn’t play terrible, they didn’t do enough to keep up with the seventh ranked Wolverines.
The win was big for Michigan as they now hold first place in the Big Ten with Michigan State losing and Purdue not playing. Like the Spartans, Michigan will face a difficult closing stretch that includes Michigan State and Maryland twice, Wisconsin, Nebraska and a road trip to Minnesota. Considering the remaining schedule it’s important that Michigan wins games like the one tonight against Rutgers.