The Big Ten had a loaded slate on Thursday night, highlighted by a rivalry matchup between Illinois and Northwestern in Champaign. Fans also got to see Michigan and Penn State battle for postseason eligibility.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night:
-Illinois Fighting Illini 66, No. 21 Northwestern Wildcats 62
It’s been a long time coming for Illinois. Despite a solid statistical profile, a great home court, and plenty of opportunities, the Illini have struggled to close out games against quality competition in Big Ten play. Illinois has taken care of business against the beatable opponents, but has fallen flat against its toughest league competition, including a painful 13-point loss to in-state rival Northwestern in early January.
This all set up Thursday’s rematch with the Wildcats, where Illinois would hope to finally close things out with a win over a high-end opponent. And while things didn’t start out well, Illinois was able to do just enough in the closing stretch to grab the win. Terrence Shannon led the way with 26 points. Matthew Mayer also had 14 points and eight rebounds.
Illinois improved to 19-9 overall and 10-7 in Big Ten play with the win. However, more importantly, Illinois finally grabbed a win against one of the league’s top teams. Notably, Thursday was the team’s first win over an opponent in the top six of the Big Ten standings. That’s going to be a huge boost to Illinois’ resume and should give the program plenty of momentum as it approaches the postseason.
On the other side, Northwestern fell to 20-8 overall and 11-6 in Big Ten play with the loss. It’s Northwestern’s first misstep since losing to Michigan at home in early February. It was an incredible run that included wins over Purdue, Indiana, and Iowa. Unfortunately, the loss dealt a massive blow to Northwestern’s Big Ten title hopes, as the Wildcats are now back two full games with just three games remaining. That’s probably too big of a hill to climb.
Illinois will now prepare for a road game against a reeling Ohio State on Sunday. Northwestern will get Maryland on the road on Sunday.
-Michigan Wolverines 58, Rutgers Scarlet Knights 45
This one got ugly for segments, but Michigan was able to earn one of its biggest wins of the season on Thursday night, as the Wolverines went into the RAC and upset Rutgers to improve to 16-12 overall and 10-7 in Big Ten play. Dug McDaniel led the way with 16 points and four rebounds. Rutgers’ offense could never get going and finished with a brutal 0.74 points per possession. Rutgers fell to 17-11 overall and 9-8 in Big Ten play with the loss.
Thursday’s win alone won’t be enough to get Michigan on the right side of the NCAA bubble, but it certainly closes the game. The Wolverines were the fifth team out of the field in TRank’s latest projection and could very well be right there with a win on Sunday over Wisconsin, who’s presently the last team in that same projection. It should be a fun (or stressful) ride for Wolverine fans the next two weeks. Meanwhile, Rutgers will try and get back on track against Penn State on the road on Sunday.
-Penn State Nittany Lions 75, Ohio State Buckeyes 71
The Nittany Lions entered this game with desperation and played that way, clawing their way to a victory in the closing minutes. Jalen Pickett finished with 23 points and four assists. Seth Lundy also had 19 points and five rebounds. The win pushed Penn State to 17-11 overall and 8-9 in Big Ten play. Ohio State fell to 11-17 overall and 3-14 in Big Ten play.
The win should help Penn State in the NCAA Tournament hunt, as the team remains right on the bubble. The Nittany Lions will return to action on Sunday at home against Rutgers. It projects as a “must win” for Penn State’s NCAA hopes. Ohio State will get another chance to end its present skid at home against Illinois on Sunday.