The Big Ten had two games on Thursday, highlighted by a marquee matchup between Illinois and Ohio State with major Big Ten title implications on the line. Additionally, Indiana hosted Maryland in a key game for its NCAA hopes.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night:
-No. 22 Ohio State Buckeyes 86, No. 15 Illinois Fighting Illini 83
This one didn’t take much hyping up. Both teams entered Thursday night’s meeting with significant regular season and postseason goals on the line. Both were still squarely in the Big Ten title race and in position for great seeds in March. The winner would move closer to those goals, while the loser might very well be knocked out of contention all together.
The game itself proved highly competitive. Illinois came out of the gates firing and quickly jumped out to a double-digit lead. However, Ohio State gradually chipped away at that margin and ended up in great position by halftime. The Buckeyes then came out with the same fire in the second half and even grabbed a massive 86-83 road win. Malaki Branham led the way with 31 points. EJ Liddell was also fantastic, finishing with 21 points and six rebounds.
For Ohio State, it’s hard to understate the significance of this win. The win keeps the Buckeyes within striking distance of the Big Ten title and will also give a massive boost to the team’s resume heading into the final days of February. It hasn’t always been pretty, but Ohio State enters the final stretch of the season with all of its biggest goals alive. Fans have to be thrilled.
On the other side, Illinois fell to 19-8 and 12-5 in Big Ten play with the loss. The team remains alive for the Big Ten title, but it’s likely now going to need a perfect finish to get there. It also represents another slip for Illinois, which is now just 2-3 over its last five games. Fans will hope that turns around.
Moving forward, Ohio State will get Maryland on the road on Sunday. Interestingly, it’s the team’s final road game of the season. Illinois will hope to rebound on Sunday on the road against Michigan.
-Indiana Hoosiers 74, Maryland Terrapins 64
Unlike the game noted above, Indiana and Maryland entered this matchup with starkly different perspectives on the season. While the Hoosiers were vying for their first NCAA Tournament under Mike Woodson, Maryland was simply hoping to build momentum for the postseason. It was a must win game for Indiana. Fortunately for Hoosier fans, the team found a way to get the job done. Xavier Johnson led the way with 24 points and six assists.
Indiana improved to 17-10 overall and 8-9 in Big Ten play with the win while Maryland fell to 13-15 overall and 5-12 in Big Ten play. The Hoosiers will hope to keep things rolling on Sunday on the road against Minnesota. Maryland will hope to bounce back against Ohio State at home on Sunday.