For the most part the seeding in the Big Ten Tournament has held, with the only exception to that being that Ohio State reached the semifinals as a five-seed after beating the four-seed Nebraska Cornhuskers on Friday afternoon. Friday's action got off to a start similar to Thursday's play, with a couple close games at halftime that resulted in some exciting finishes. Wisconsin and Michigan State must have seen enough of that though, as they cruised to easy victories in the evening session, knowing that they would have a quick turnaround to their semifinal meeting today.
(1) Michigan 64 - (9) Illinois 63:
For the first time in school history Michigan entered the Big Ten Tournament as the number one seed, but they were just inches away from Illinois sending them home early. The Fighting Illini showed a lot more fight than just moved a week ago when the Wolverines downed them by 31 points at home, but it wasn't enough to derail Michigan's hopes for a high-seed when the brackets are announced Sunday.
The first half went like much of the Big Ten Tournament had played out so far, with one of the teams looking like they were on the brink of putting some separation on their opponent, only to have their foe pull back close before the break. Michigan led by as many as seven points before Illinois was able to push back a little, going into halftime down 38-33.
The Wolverines looked like they had cured any issues they had during halftime, starting the 2nd half with an 11-3 run to open up a 49-36 lead. Michigan couldn't make that lead stick though, as Illinois broke off a 10-0 run starting with about 11:30 left in the second half to eventually pull within a point at 55-54.
The key contributor for Illinois during their most notable run of the game was Tracy Abrams, who scored seven of Illinois' 10 points. Abrams finished the game with 11 points. Rayvonte Rice also had 11 points for Illinois, and his layup with just under five minutes to go pushed Illinois in front 59-58. The Fighting Illini would extend that lead to 61-58 after a Kendrick Nunn layup with 3:52 left.
The last seven-plus minutes of the game wasn't Michigan's finest showing, only scoring six points during that timeframe, but they found the bucket when it counted most. Derrick Walton Jr hit a three-pointer to tie the score at 61 with three minutes to go. Illinois re-took the lead after a Rice layup, and Nik Stauskas split a pair of free throws to set up the ending.
Michigan took the lead on what would turn out to be the game-winning layup from Jordan Morgan with 7.9 seconds to go. Illinois had one last shot at the upset, but Tracy Abrams couldn't get his shot to foul and the Wolverines survived to move on to face Ohio State in today's first semifinal.
Nik Stauskas led the way with 19 points for Michigan despite only shooting 4-12 from the field. Glenn Robinson III added 15 points and seven rebounds, while Caris LeVert had 13 points. Now after going 3-0 in the inaugural Big Ten Tournament, the Wolverines will try to win two games in a Big Ten Tournament for the first time since that 1998 first edition.
Standing in Michigan's way will be an Ohio State team that the Wolverines beat in their only matchup of the season in Columbus on February 11th. After trailing 30-26 at the half of that game, Michigan used a 12-0 run in the second half to take the lead and never look back. Stauskas led Michigan with 15 points in that contest, but the real standout was freshman Derrick Walton Jr, who scored 13 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished out six assists in the 70-60 win.
(5) Ohio State 71 - (4) Nebraska 67
After it was looking grim for Ohio State's chances midway through the second half, a technical foul from LaQuinton Ross might have just been the spark the Buckeyes needed to erase an 18-point deficit against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers looked to have everything going their way, but Ohio State showed just how hard it is to beat them during the Big Ten Tournament.
Ohio State looked to be in control early, jumping out to eight-point leads on two different occasions in the first half before Nebraska regrouped to tie the score at 20. The Buckeyes didn't surrender the lead to the Cornhuskers until very late in the first half, and Nebraska took a 31-28 lead into halftime after a Ray Gallegos jumper.
The start of the second half for Ohio State was less than ideal, with Nebraska scoring the first five points of the half. Moments later a 12-0 run was start by Nebraska by a Terran Petteway jumper, and ended with a 48-30 lead for the Cornhuskers at one point. LaQuinton Ross was called for a technical for shoving Terran Pettway after Ross was called for an offensive foul during the run.
After Nebraska opened up their big lead, Ohio State responded quickly with a 9-0 run of their own to bring the Buckeyes within double digits. The second half was filled with whistles which also helped Ohio State to get back into the game, with both teams reaching the double bonus in fouls with just under 10 minutes to go in the second half. At that time Ohio State was still trailing 54-44, but they would soon pull a lot closer.
A dunk from Sam Thompson pulled Ohio State to within 58-56 with 4:42 left in the second half, but Nebraska answered with a three-pointer from Walter Pitchford. After the teams traded a pair of free throws, the Buckeyes got a surprise three from Amadeo Della Valle. Then a couple fouls from Terran Petteway on LaQuinton Ross not only gave Petteway five fouls in the game, but also gave Ohio State the lead 65-63. The Buckeyes wouldn't trail the rest of the way, and now move on to face Michigan today in Indianapolis.
The hero for the Buckeyes in the game was undoubtedly LaQuinton Ross, who set a career-high with 26 points and also added 13 rebounds. Something about playing in Indianapolis seems to suit him just fine, as through two games here during the Big Ten Tournament he has accumulated 45 points and 28 rebounds. It will be interesting to see what Ross might be able to do for an encore after he career-high in points yesterday, and career-high in rebounds on Thursday.
Just as critical to the Ohio State comeback was what Amadeo Della Valle gave the team. While he has struggled for a good portion of the conference schedule, he came in and gave the Buckeyes 12 big points to go along with six rebounds and three blocks. Aaron Craft added six points, six rebounds, and six assists as he wasn't ready to say goodbye to playing at the Big Ten Tournament.
Nebraska got a great effort from Terran Petteway, who put in 20 points before fouling out, and gave the Buckeyes all they could handle. Walter Pitchford had 15 points and five rebounds for the Cornhuskers, and Shavon Shields added 12 points, six rebounds, and four assists.
The Buckeyes will now move on to play Michigan in the first semifinal today, and will be looking to extract some revenge on the Wolverines for winning the only matchup they had this season on February 11th in Columbus. Ohio State got off to a strong start in the matchup against Michigan, holding a 30-26 lead at half, but they couldn't make that lead hold up as Michigan went on to win 70-60.
(2) Wisconsin 83 - (7) Minnesota 57
After six games of basketball that were close on the scoreboard for the majority of the way, Wisconsin kicked off Friday's night session with a blowout win over Minnesota. The two teams had already met twice this season, with each team earning a win on their home court, but Wisconsin left no doubt behind the shooting of Ben Brust about who would be declared the winner of this season series.
The Badgers used a 14-2 run early in the game to open up a 21-9 lead and it looked like Minnesota was in for a long night. The Golden Gophers did respond to close the gap to 26-22, but the nervousness from Wisconsin had to be short-lived, as the Badgers reeled off the final eight points of the first half to take a 34-22 lead into the break.
Minnesota did have one small spurt in them, using a 6-0 run to pull within eight points before Wisconsin countered back with a 14-5 run to truly crush any of the hopes that Minnesota might have at the upset. The rest of the game would play out without any threat from Minnesota, and give Wisconsin their ninth win in the last 10 games.
Ben Brust put on a show for the crowd in Indianapolis with a career-high 29 points in the game, and with the game out of hand Brust was able to be lifted to a show of appreciation from the Wisconsin faithful. Not only did the Badgers get the performance from Brust, but they got strong contributions from their bench. Nigel Davis put in 15 points for Wisconsin, and Bronson Koenig hit four three-pointers on his way to 14 points in the game. Davis and Koenig's contributions came at a perfect time for Wisconsin, as starters Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson were both held scoreless.
Not much went right for Minnesota in the game, but they were able to get 18 points from Deandre Mathieu, and 14 points from Joey King off the bench. Those two were the only Minnesota players that reached double figures in the game, and there were only four Golden Gophers that had more than one field goal. Andre Hollins really struggled, going 2-14 from the field and finishing with just eight points.
Now Minnesota will be sweating a spot in the NCAA Tournament the next 24+ hours. Minnesota did reach 20 wins during the year, but they might be on the outside looking in, especially if the selection committee comes down to the question of including either them or Nebraska. Minnesota will be hoping that there are no bubbles teams stealing bids in the conference tournaments that are left to be decided.
While Minnesota is going home, Wisconsin moves on to face Michigan State in then second semifinal today. Much like Ohio State and Michigan, these two teams only met once this year, with Wisconsin stealing a 60-58 victory in Madison on February 9th. The win was sealed by a Traevon Jackson jumper with 2.1 seconds to go, and helped to give Jackson some confidence after the recent funk that he was in. The win was the second of Wisconsin's nine-game winning streak that the closed the season on before falling to Nebraska in the regular season finale.
(3) Michigan State 67 - (11) Northwestern 51
If Friday night's performance is what Michigan State can get through the rest of March and possibly early April, they will be a team to be reckoned with in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans look to be getting healthy at the right time, and the time off after their loss to Ohio State on Sunday seemed to have done them well against Northwestern.
Northwestern was able to hang tough with Michigan State for about the first half of the first half, but the Spartans opened up a 22-12 lead after a Kenny Kaminski three-pointer with 6:40 to go. The Wildcats answered back with a three-pointer from Tre Demps, but that would be the last time Northwestern would be within double digits, as Travis Trice answered back with a three-pointer. The three from Trice sparked a 18-7 spurt by Michigan State to close out the first half, and sent the Spartans into the break with a 40-22 lead.
The start of the second half was more of the same as how the first half ended. Michigan State was able to open up a 24-point advantage before calling off the dogs, which allowed Northwestern to at least close the gap on the score sheet even though the game was already well in hand.
The biggest boost for Michigan State on Friday night came from Branden Dawson, who was in his fourth game back on the court after breaking his hand. Dawson finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Gary Harris added 13 points and seven rebounds for the Spartans.
One of the reasons that Michigan State was able to win this game so handily was because of their work on the glass. The Spartans dominated the boards, outrebounding Northwestern 40-24 in the quarterfinal matchup. To go along with all those rebounds, Michigan State also was able to block eight Northwestern shots, providing a formidable challenge in the lane that Northwestern couldn't crack.
The Wildcats did get 21 points from Drew Crawford, but Crawford wasn't able to get much help in the game. Alex Olah scored 10 points for Northwestern, and the only other player with more than five points for the Wildcats was Tre Demps, who added seven points. At least Chris Collins' team can still hang their hat on winning six games in conference this year, and upsetting Iowa in the first round after many were expecting the year for Northwestern to be a lot rougher in his first year at the helm.
Now Michigan State will move on to try and defeat Wisconsin in today's second semifinal in Indianapolis. The Spartans narrowly missed out on beating Wisconsin in Madison back in February, dropping a 60-58 result after a Traevon Jackson jumper with 2.1 seconds left sealed the deal for Wisconsin despite 24 points from Adreian Payne.