It was pretty rare to find a double-digit lead on Thursday in then action in Indianapolis, with only the first and third games featuring times when the teams saw the lead balloon to 10 points or more. The biggest upset of the day came in the final game of the four that were played. Northwestern down Iowa to add to the issues Iowa is facing. Aside from the first game of the day that Illinois was able to win by 10 points, the other three games weren't decided until the last few possessions, so those in attendance got their monies worth.
(9) Illinois 64 - (8) Indiana 54
After getting off to a 2-10 start within the Big Ten, Illinois has turned it on of late, winning five of their last six coming into Thursday's first round matchup with Indiana. The Fighting Illini opened up their Big Ten campaign with a win over the Hoosiers in overtime on New Year's Eve, so it's only fitting that they sent Indiana packing on Thursday.
Indiana came into Thursday's game on a two-game slide, but their hopes were boosted by the return of freshman Noah Vonleh to the starting lineup. The high hopes disappeared early when the Hoosiers fell behind 9-0 just five minutes into the game.
This game was defined by runs, as the teams traded scoring spurts back and forth. Indiana answered Illinois' quick start with an 8-0 run of their own to pull within one point. Early on the Hoosiers found success from behind the arc, with six of their eight first half field goals coming from three point range.
The teams went into halftime with Illinois nursing a 30-28 lead behind eight points each from Malcolm Hill and Tracy Abrams. Helping to keep the Illinois in front were the nine turnovers that Indiana committed through the first 20 minutes.
Indiana got three three-pointers from Will Sheehey as he finished as high-scorer in the first half with 11 points, while Yogi Ferrell added 10 points. Noticeably quiet on the scoring end for Indiana was Vonleh, who only was able to score two points against the defense of Nnanna Egwu and the rest of the Illinois defense.
Indiana took the lead back early in the second half behind a 10-3 run before Tracy Abrams executed an old fashioned three-point play to send Illinois on a 11-0 run to help them take the lead for good.
Indiana was able to pull within 53-52 after a Austin Etherington dunk with just over three minutes to go, but Illinois wouldn't let the lead change hands again. Abrams hit a three with two minutes to go to push the lead to 56-52, and from there the margin only got bigger before the game ended.
Tracy Abrams finished with 25 points and seven rebounds , and Rayvonte Rice put in 13 points for Illinois to kick off the tournament. On the defensive end the Fighting Illini discarded six shots, with five of those rejections coming from Egwu.
After hitting six triples in the first half, Indiana wasn't able to find the range on any in the second 20 minutes. Yogi Ferrell was only 2-9 from long range on his way to 14 points in the game. Will Sheehey also found some struggles invtbe second half, only adding two points to his first half total. As a team Indiana was killed by turnovers, which has been a problem for them all year, committing 16 giveaways.
Now Illinois advances to take on Michigan at noon to kick off Friday's action. The two teams met last week with the Wolverines cruising to a 84-53 win in Champaign to clinch the outright Big Ten title. After allowing Michigan to score 52 in the first half of that game, Illinois will hope their defense is a little tighter as the teams battle on the neutral court.
(5) Ohio State 63 - (12) Purdue 61
The second game of the day had a similar feel to the game that preceded it, with the major differences being that the result hung in the balance until the very end. Ohio State came into the contest looking to try and make it three wins over the Boilermakers this year, but Purdue made sure that the Buckeyes had to work for the hat trick.
The game started out with Purdue jumping out to an early 7-1 lead, only to see Ohio State answer with a 6-0 run of their own. This opening was followed by the teams trading baskets before Ohio State opened up a 26-19 lead after a 7-0 run. The most notable basket in that sequence came on a Lenzelle Smith Jr three-pointer, which inched him closer to 1,000 points in his Buckeye career.
Just as it was looking like Ohio State was about to take control, Purdue closed the gap late in the half that was punctuated by a Basil Smotherman steal that he finished with a dunk to make the score 28-27. LaQuinton Ross put home a late basket to send the teams into half with Ohio State ahead 30-27.
Aaron Craft was the high-scorer in the first half between the two teams, putting home right points for the Buckeyes. Lenzelle Smith Jr and LaQuinto Ross each added six points, while Purdue got six points each for A.J. Hammons and Ronnie Johnson.
The biggest surprise in the first half for the Buckeyes was their work on the boards. Ohio State out-rebounded Purdue 27-12, with Ross doing the most work on the glass by grabbing eight rebounds. Trey McDonald came off the bench to add six rebounds of his own.
The teams went back-and-forth to start the second half, with the lead changing hands multiple times before Purdue was able to create a sliver of distance at 51-47 after a three-point play from A.J. Hammons. Purdue wasn't able to hold onto the lead and were reeling for a while after Ronnie Johnson picked up his fourth foul.
Ohio State took the lead back behind a couple baskets from Aaron Craft and a jumper from Ross, but Purdue would not fold up. Kendall Stephens hit a three-pointer to tie the score at 54, but Hammons became the next Boilermaker to pick up his fourth foul with under five and a half minutes to go.
The Buckeyes built a 59-54 lead, which Purdue closed to 59-58 before a parade of late game free throws came for Ohio State. Smith Jr registered his 1,000th point as a Buckeye from the line, but Ohio State wasn't able to make it a two-possession game. Purdue had one last chance to possibly win the game, but missed a three-pointer at the buzzer and wrapped up their trying season.
LaQuinton Ross finished with 19 points for the Buckeye and a career-high 15 rebounds. In their meeting in late December, Ross set his previous career-high with 12 rebounds in the contest in West Lafayette. Aaron Craft had 16 points and five assists to help Ohio State to victory in his last go around at the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeye a also showed some presence in contesting shots, registering 10 blocks with every starter getting at least one block. Ohio State needed all those blocks to make up for only hitting on one of their 14 three-point tries.
Again for Purdue A.J. Hammons had a solid game against the Buckeyes, scoring 15 points, grabbing nine boards, and swattibg five shots. Ronnie Johnson had 12 points but turned the ball over seven times, and his brother Terone had 10 points in his final college contest.
Next up for the Buckeyes comes a rubber match against Nebraska this afternoon. Ohio State cruised to a 84-53 win over the Cornhuskers in Columbus on January 4th, but were toppled by Nebraska 68-62 when the teams met just over two weeks later in Lincoln. Nebraska is one of the hottest teams in the country right now, and should give the Buckeyes all they can handle as the Cornhuskers try and secure a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
(7) Minnesota 63 - (10) Penn State 56
Minnesota was trying to avoid getting their bubble popped on Thursday, and successfully navigated Penn State for the second time in less than a week in the third game of the day in Indianapolis. The Golden Gophers looked like they were going to put things away early, jumping out to a 9-0 lead in the first few minutes of the contest.
The Nittany Lions didn't let the early deficit keep them down though, battling back to make the score 22-17 before an Austin Hollins three-point play. The bucket and foul by the Golden Gophers didn't take all of the wind out of Penn State's sail though, as they kept battling to hit the locker room down 30-25 after Maverick Ahanmisi hit a jumper as the clock expired in the first half.
Minnesota was pushed to their advantage in the first half by seven points from Deandre Mathieu, along with five points from Austin Hollins. Had the Golden Gophers shot a little bit better from the field in the first half, they might have found themselves with a little bit more of a lead going into the locker room, but they were only able to make nine of their 24 shots through 20 minutes on the court.
After starting 2-18 from the field, Penn State found their touch to close out the first half, hitting eight of their next 12 attempts from the field. As with most of the season for the Nittany Lions, Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill provided most of the offensive spark for Penn State, with Frazier finishing the half with eight points and Newbill contributing five points. The rest of the work done on the offensive end was spread out among a number of players, as six Nittany Lions ended the first half with two points each.
Much like the first half, Minnesota got off to a nice run in the early stages of the half. With the score 37-31 Austin Hollins was fouled as he made a three-pointer, and converted the free throw to push the lead to 41-31. The lead was pushed to 47-33 with 9:35 left in the half, and looked to be cruising to victory much like just a few days ago when the teams met in Minneapolis.
Penn State had other plans for the last 10 minutes of the half, chipping away at the lead behind three-pointers. John Johnson made two triples and Tim Frazier made one of his own, as the Nittany Lions were able to pull to within 59-56 with about a minute to go in the contest. That would be as close as they would be able to get in the contest though, with Andre Hollins hitting a big three-pointer with 54 seconds to go to push Minnesota's lead back to six points.
Austin Hollins took over in the second half to help spur Minnesota to victory, scoring 13 of his 18 points in the contest after the halftime break. Deandre Mathiew scored 13 points and dished out five assists, while Mo Walker was a key contributor off the bench, scoring eight points. The Golden Gophers were able to overcome the shortcomings they had on the glass, with the Nittany Lions holding a 41-33 edge on the boards in the game.
Penn State had a lot of trouble shooting the basketball in the game, and had they been able to convert on a few more of their field goal attempts and they might have been able to pop Minnesota's NCAA Tournament bubble. The Nittany Lions finished the game shooting just over 32% from the field, and they were only able to convert five of their 23 attempts from behind the arc. D.J. Newbill scored 16 points on 7-22 shooting from the field, while Tim Frazier put in 11 points on 4-13 shooting in his final game for Penn State.
Now Richard Pitino's team will face off with Wisconsin in the second round, who they split their two regular season matchups against. The Golden Gophers were able to add to Wisconsin's woes earlier in the season, sending the Badgers to their third straight loss during a stretch of five losses in six games with a 81-68 victory in Minneapolis. The teams met again just under a month later in Madison, but this time the Badgers were on their way back up the rankings at that time, and pinned Minnesota with a 78-70 loss.
(11) Northwestern 67 (6) Iowa 62
The biggest upset of the first day of the Big Ten Tournament came in the final game of the day, with Northwestern adding to the issues that Iowa has been facing lately. The two teams met twice earlier in the Big Ten campaign, with Iowa winning both matchups by more than 25 points, so the result on Thursday night was surprising even with Iowa's run of poor form lately.
Unlike the first three games of the day where one team jumped out to an early lead, the first real separation between the two teams came from a couple Jared Uthoff three-pointers off the bench for the Hawkeyes. Iowa went up 25-19 at that point, and extended their lead a little bit more to 28-21 before Northwestern was able to make a comeback at the end of the first half, and the teams went into half tied at 31.
Both teams lived by the three-pointer in the first half with Northwestern having five of their 12 field goals in the first half coming from long range while, while six of the 11 field goals came from behind the arc. The Wildcats were pushed by 10 points from Tre Demps, and seven points each from Sanjay Lumpkin and Drew Crawford, as they kept pace with Iowa.
On the opposite side, Iowa got most of their offense from two players, and that trend would continue for the second half as well. Roy Devyn Marble poured in 12 points for the Hawkeyes through the first 20 minutes, and Jared Uthoff finished the half with three three-pointers to account for all nine of his points. Iowa wasn't able to use the seven turnovers that Northwestern committed to their advantage to build a bigger lead though, and that would come back to bite them.
Northwestern came out of the halftime break firing, using a 20-6 run that spanned 7:45 over the first and second half to open up a 41-34 lead, but much like most of the other action throughout the day in Indianapolis, Iowa responded with their own run. The Hawkeyes used a 6-0 run to tie the score up at 45, and the teams traded baskets before Northwestern put Iowa on the ropes with a Dave Sobolewski three-pointer to push the Wildcat lead to 60-53 with just over two minutes to go.
Iowa tried to work their way back into the game at the end, and had brought the deficit down to just 64-62 after a three-point play from Jared Uthoff, but Northwestern was able to hit their free throws late and send Iowa to their sixth loss in the past seven games.
While the loss on Thursday won't keep Iowa out of the NCAA Tournament, it certainly won't help their seeding in the big dance. Roy Devyn Marble finished the game with 25 points, but he got no help on the offensive end from his fellow starters. No other Hawkeye started put in more than five points, and the bench of Iowa was responsible for 30 points, compared to the 32 points from the starters. The key contributor off the bench for the Hawkeyes was Uthoff, who scored 17 points and narrowly missed a double-double by grabbing nine rebounds.
Northwestern didn't have quite as much trouble finding their offense, and were led by 20 points from Tre Demps, and 15 points from Drew Crawford. Both players were also instrumental at getting other players involved, with Demps dishing out five assists and Crawford adding six helpers. The biggest contribution for Northwestern came from Dave Sobolewski, who scored 10 points after playing minimal minutes most of the Big Ten season while dealing with injuries.
Now Northwestern moves on to face another team that swept the regular season series with the Wildcats. Michigan State defeated Northwestern 54-40 on January 13th in Evanston, and 85-70 in mid-February when the two teams met in East Lansing. While the regular season defeats weren't by quite as much as they faced against then Hawkeyes, the Wildcats will be underdogs as they try and stop a Michigan State team that is getting healthy, but still dealing with some inconsistencies.