The Big Ten had two games on Tuesday night, highlighted by a sneakily good matchup between Penn State and Rutgers in State College. The night also featured a ranked Illinois team going on the road to face Nebraska.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night:
-Penn State Nittany Lions 66, Rutgers Scarlet Knights 49
While this matchup didn’t get much attention nationally, it featured two teams playing pretty well heading into tip in an important January meeting. Penn State had won two of its last three with the only loss coming against a top five Purdue team and Rutgers had won four straight, including two convincing wins over Michigan and Nebraska. Both teams were hoping to elevate their NCAA hopes with a win.
The game itself would generally deliver. Penn State had a decent lead from the opening minutes, but Rutgers was always able to keep things close enough to believe they had a chance. Sam Sessoms led the way for Penn State, finishing with 17 points, six assists, and three rebounds. John Harrar also had 16 points. Ultimately, Penn State grabbed a 66-49 win and improved to 8-6 overall and 3-3 in Big Ten play. Rutgers fell to 9-6 overall and 3-2 in Big Ten play with the loss.
For Penn State, this was a crucial win. The Nittany Lions were playing well and needed to avoid a slide after last Saturday’s emotional loss to Purdue. And taking care of business against Rutgers at home did just that. The team will now enter the second half of January very much alive for the postseason and with a legitimate shot at the NCAA Tournament. It won’t be easy, but the path is there.
On the other side, this was a tough one for Rutgers. After some missteps in non-conference play, Rutgers needs to make up ground and this looked like one of the more winnable road games left on the docket. It’s still too early to know what the impact will be, but it’s reasonable to believe this loss might bump Rutgers to the wrong side of the bubble on Selection Sunday. We’ll have to wait and see.
Penn State will now get a few days off before returning to action on the road against Ohio State on Sunday. Rutgers will hope to rebound on Saturday on the road against Maryland.
-No. 25 Illinois Fighting Illini 81, Nebraska Cornhuskers 71
This looked like an Illinois win heading into tip and it played out that way. The Huskers were able to make things closer than expected, keeping things within a possession deep into the second half. Bryce McGowens led the way for Nebraska, finishing with 19 points. However, Illinois eventually proved to be too much, thanks in large part to a 29-point performance from Trent Frazier in the win.
Illinois improved to 12-3 overall and 5-0 in Big Ten play with the win, while Nebraska fell to 6-11 overall and 0-6 in Big Ten play with the loss. Illinois is set to return to action on Friday at home against Michigan, though the game is presently in doubt due to COVID-19 issues associated with Michigan’s program. Nebraska will hope to get back on track against Purdue on the road on Friday.