Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night:
-No. 24 Illinois Fighting Illini 56, No. 10 Michigan State Spartans 55
A week or two ago, this game looked pretty evenly matched. Both teams were playing well and were on track to content for the Big Ten title at season’s end. However, Illinois then lost two straight and the team’s best player (Kofi Cockburn) was sidelined with injury. It made Tuesday’s meeting a key opportunity for the Spartans. After all, it’s not often you get to have one of your toughest road games against a short-handed team.
However, the game itself wouldn’t unfold that way.
Illinois not only showed it could compete without Cockburn, but actually took control early and led by double-digits for much of the first half. Trent Frazier was red hot and eventually finished with 16 points, five assists, and three rebounds. Illinois also showed some great defensive play, holding a prolific Michigan State offense to 0.92 points per possession. The team just couldn’t get anything open on the perimeter, and didn’t hit when it did either. All told, Illinois grabbed a hard fought 56-55 win after Malik Hall missed one of two free throws that would have tied the game in the closing seconds.
For Illinois, this win can’t be understated. If the team ends up hoisting the Big Ten crown at season’s end, this is a game that’s going to be a big part of it. Beating a top 10 team is hard enough, but doing it without your best player is even tougher. However, that’s exactly what Illinois pulled off on Tuesday night and it deserves a lot of credit for doing so.
On the other side, this will be a tough one for Spartan fans to stomach. Not only because it was such a great opportunity for the team to take control of the Big Ten title race, but also because they were so close in the final minutes of the game. One free throw would have forced overtime and a bucket might have won it outright. That leaves a mark.
Moving forward, Illinois will now prepare for a road trip to Northwestern on Saturday. Michigan State will host arch-rival Michigan at home on Saturday.
-Maryland Terrapins 68, Rutgers Scarlet Knights 60
For the second game in a row, Maryland entered a game as a decent underdog and pulled off a surprising win. The Terps didn’t just win this game, but thoroughly outplayed Rutgers along the way. Eric Ayala had quite a night, finished with 22 points, eight rebounds, and three assists. The win pushed Maryland to 11-9 overall and 3-6 in Big Ten play while Rutgers fell to 11-8 overall and 5-4 in Big Ten play.
Maryland will now hope to keep things rolling at home against Indiana on Saturday while Rutgers will try around rebound against Nebraska on the road on Saturday. This loss will have a devastating impact to Rutgers’ NCAA hopes.