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Tuesday’s Things to Know: Creighton, Kentucky, Illinois earn big road wins

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College basketball saw some big results in the Big East and Big Ten on Tuesday night. Road wins from Illinois and Creighton left a big impression. Kentucky, meanwhile, kept the strong road-win theme of the night going with a strong win at LSU in the SEC.

No. 15 Creighton takes down No. 19 Marquette

Perhaps the night’s biggest win went to No. 15 Creighton. The Bluejays held off No. 19 Marquette for a crucial Big East road win.

Ty-Shon Alexander shook off a first-half shot to the jaw to finish with 22 points. And Creighton did a strong job of defending Markus Howard. The nation’s leading scorer was limited to 13 points in the loss.

The win gives Creighton a legitimate shot to win at least a share of the Big East title. I examined more on the Bluejays here.

NBC SPORTS BRACKETOLOGY

Ayo Dosunmu’s return lifts Illinois over No. 9 Penn State

The night started with Illinois snapping a four-game Big Ten losing streak. Sophomore Ayo Dosunmu’s return fueled a critical 62-56 road win for the Illini at No. 9 Penn State.

After a scary knee injury against Michigan State last Tuesday, Dosunmu missed the Illinois loss to Rutgers over the weekend. The guard looked healthy in his return to the Illinois lineup. Dosunmu paced the Illini with 24 points. With the shot clock winding down with under a minute left, Dosunmu buried a runner to help seal the win.

Dosunmu’s return also helped Illinois immensely on the defensive end. Penn State only shot 36 percent from the floor and 21 percent from three-point range. The Illini threw length at the Nittany Lions on the perimeter. And the size of Kofi Cockburn (15 points) enabled Illinois to defend Mike Watkins (eight points) one-on-one. Life was also tough for Lamar Stevens during a 3-for-11 night. In a grind-it-out game where both teams went scoreless for minutes at a time, Illinois looked like a top-30 defense in a huge road game.

At this point in the season, Illinois is still a full three games out of the Big Ten lead. It’s unlikely the Illini can jump four or five teams to vault into first. But this is also a very dangerous team if they can get hot.

Starting Big Ten play at 8-2, Illinois already showed they’re capable of running off six or seven wins in a row in the deepest conference in the country. Although one win at Penn State doesn’t put Illinois back in contention it gives a dangerous team confidence.

The next two for Illinois are winnable games against bottom feeders in Nebraska and Northwestern. From there, it’s a three-game sprint to the finish with Indiana, at Ohio State and Iowa. With only one road game against a top Big Ten team, Illinois will be a fascinating team to track the next few weeks.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL SCOREBOARD

No. 10 Kentucky gets past LSU

In the SEC, the Wildcats kept their lead with a strong road win at LSU. The win gives Kentucky a two-game lead in the loss column on LSU. Auburn remains in second in the league at a game behind Kentucky.

The road win also gives the Wildcats another quality win. Winners of nine of their last 10 games, Kentucky looks like a team that is figuring things out down the stretch. Sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley has turned into the team’s most consistent scorer the past several weeks.

Quickley led Kentucky with 21 points on Tuesday night to lead the Wildcats. Establishing Nick Richards on the interior is still Kentucky’s best route to earning a win. But Quickley scoring at least 12 or more points in 14 straight games is something to track going forward.

Richards dominating on the inside and Quickley’s consistent scoring on the perimeter has given the Wildcats more of an established identity during the stretch run.

Edwards scores 23, No. 14 Purdue shakes off Illinois 73-56

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Carsen Edwards broke out of a shooting slump to score 23 points, and No. 14 Purdue got its fourth straight victory, 73-56 over Illinois on Wednesday night.

Edwards went 8 of 14 from the field for the Boilermakers (21-7, 14-3 Big Ten), who moved into a tie atop the conference with No. 6 Michigan State. The All-American guard made 7 of his 40 attempts in the previous two games.

Matt Haarms had 21 points on 8-of-8 shooting, 10 rebounds and five blocks for Purdue.

Ayo Dosunu and Andres Feliz led cold-shooting Illinois (10-18, 6-11) with nine points apiece. Illinois shot 32.8 percent overall and 27.6 percent from 3-point range.

Illinois led the back-and-forth game 33-32 at halftime and rallied to tie it at 48 with 9:43 remaining. Then Edwards and Haarms took over as the Boilermakers scored 12 straight points. Illinois got no closer than nine points the rest of the way.

The Boilermakers held a 36-27 advantage on the boards.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois showed some depth, with 26 bench points to Purdue’s two, but still lost its third straight, squandering a chance to earn a signature win.

Purdue remains in the hunt for its 24th Big Ten championship.

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Illinois, Kansas State beat top-15 teams; St. John’s gets big bubble win

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Things picked up during Tuesday night in college basketball as many ranked teams were in action. Two top-15 teams fell on the road to unranked opponents as the dynamics in the Big Ten and Big 12 shifted dramatically. The Big East also saw a gigantic road win from a bubble team who picked off a top-10 opponent.

Illinois upsets No. 9 Michigan State as Spartans continue losing streak

The biggest upset of Tuesday night saw Illinois take down No. 9 Michigan State with a solid 79-74 Big Ten home win. Although the Illini are only 8-15 on the season, they showed how dangerous they can be by leading for most of this game. Freshman Ayo Dosunmu paced the Illini with 24 points as he continues to look really good in big games this season. The loss gives Michigan State three straight defeats as they’re now right in the thick of the Big Ten race they were leading a week ago.

Feeling the heat from the Illinois defense on Tuesday, Michigan State had 24 turnovers as the Illini did a good job of containing point guard Cassius Winston. I have more on this game here, as Michigan State is still trying to figure things out after the loss of guard Josh Langford.

St. John’s earns road win at No. 10 Marquette, sweeps season series

Bubble wins were tough to come by on Tuesday night and none were bigger than struggling St. John’s going on the road and winning at Marquette. Following a blowout road loss to Duke on Saturday, St. John’s looked far more confident playing against a team they had already beaten earlier this season.

Shamorie Ponds outdueled Markus Howard for the second time this season as the Red Storm earned a massive season sweep over a top-20 team in NET. With St. John’s playing such a mediocre non-conference schedule, they didn’t compile a lot of quality wins so far this season.

But by sweeping a team like Marquette, the Red Storm might have just given themselves some breathing room as long as they don’t compile more terrible losses. CBT’s Rob Dauster examined this game for St. John’s NCAA tournament implications with a look here.

Kansas State topples No. 13 Kansas to maintain control of the Big 12

The Big 12 had an intriguing in-state rivalry game on Tuesday as co-leader Kansas State hosted Kansas. The Wildcats used stifling defense to force 23 Jayhawk turnovers while four players finished in double-figures as Kansas State pulled off the crucial home win.

The first win for Kansas State over Kansas since 2015, the win gives the Wildcats a half-game lead over Baylor in the crowded Big 12 race as the Jayhawks once again struggled on the road.

There is obviously a long way to go in the Big 12 race. But Kansas State appears to be regaining last season’s Elite Eight form while the Jayhawks look very vulnerable after dominating this conference over the last 15 years. Baylor, Iowa State and Texas Tech all remain in the picture. This could be the best conference race in college basketball over the final month of the regular season.

Illinois drops No. 9 Michigan State as Spartans continue Big Ten freefall

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Illinois pulled off a major upset in the Big Ten on Tuesday night as they took down No. 9 Michigan State with a 79-74 home win.

Leading for nearly the entire game before the Spartans rallied with a furious second-half comeback, Illinois stabilized in the final minutes behind a strong effort from freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu. Dosunmu’s clutch shooting down the stretch helped give him a game-high 24 points as the quickly-rising NBA Draft prospect showed why the Illini are such a dangerous team despite the 8-15 record. Big man Giorgi Bezhanishvili also chipped in 16 points for Illinois while guard Trent Frazier had 15 points and some solid late-game free-throw shooting.

But for as nice as this win is for Illinois, the loss for Michigan State is the biggest story from this game.

Now with a three-game Big Ten losing streak, the Spartans are in a mid-conference season funk as they’ve gone from leaders in the conference to now being in the second tier of teams. And Michigan State keeps losing in unique ways. Purdue is a solid team who outplayed the Spartans. But the loss to Indiana featured a horrible 8-for-22 performance from the free-throw line in a tight overtime home loss.

Against Illinois, Michigan State had 24 turnovers — including nine from point guard and Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Cassius Winston — as they looked like a team who hadn’t seen ball pressure and traps regularly this season. Winston made slow and sloppy decisions in the first half as he glided baseline into traps and threw less-than crisp passes that sailed to Illinois defenders.

Finishing with a team-high 21 points and nine assists, Winston was far from the only problem for Michigan State in this one. The Spartans had a difficult time getting stops at certain times and their transition defense also struggled once the onslaught of turnovers began to pile up.

Finding a second consistent option behind Winston now that Josh Langford is officially done for the year hasn’t proven to be easy as well. Shot-taking options outside of Winston aren’t readily available for the Spartans. Many have stepped up with double-figure scoring games. Xavier Tillman (16 points), Nick Ward (11 points) and Kyle Ahrens (11 points) all helped Winston chip in during Tuesday’s loss. But none one of them attempted more than seven shots as much of the scoring burden fell on Winston.

Since none of Michigan State’s other guys can really create their own shot, it falls on Winston to create shots for himself and everyone else. Ward and Tillman need classic back-to-the-basket post touches while Ahrens, Kyle Goins, Matt McQuaid and others need a pass from Winston to set them up.

Illinois snuffing Winston with doubles and traps is likely what the Michigan State offense is going to see until they figure out a way to make things easier on their point guard. And that doesn’t even include the Spartans lacking a true backup point guard option they can trust so Winston can take some minutes on the bench. With turnover issues, free-throw woes and inconsistent shooting nights, Michigan State suddenly doesn’t look like a Big Ten favorite as they need to make some adjustments to figure things out.

Tom Izzo-coached teams have a history of playing their best ball down the stretch before the postseason begins. However, it’s now February and Michigan State still has intriguing identity issues with the loss of Langford as they try to fix their inconsistent play.

Saturday’s Things To Know: The Big 12 rolls, Kentucky’s back, Justin Robinson breaks out

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PLAYERS OF THE DAY: Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech

Robinson had the game of his life on Saturday afternoon.

The senior point guard, who has spent much of this season overshadowed by the emergence of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, scored 24 of his 35 points in the first half, hit nine of his 13 threes and handed out eight assists as No. 10 Virginia Tech bounced back from a couple of embarrassing losses at Virginia and at North Carolina to mollywhop Syracuse in Blacksburg.

The Hokies jumped out to an early double-digit lead, pushed the lead to 19 points by halftime and ended up cruising through the second half as the Syracuse zone had no answer for their ability to pass the ball and shoot over the top of the Orange defenders.

This was exactly the kind of win that Buzz Williams’ team needed to get their confidence back and headed in the right direction.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Kentucky Wildcats

It doesn’t get much better than knocking off a top ten team and getting the nation back on your bandwagon. We wrote about about No. 8 Kentucky beating No. 9 Kansas right here.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Braxton Beverly, N.C. State

The Wolfpack trailed 67-61 with 20 seconds left. After four missed free throws from Marcquise Reed, Braxton Beverly hit this shot to give N.C. State the win:

EXTRA ONIONS: The Hausers

And we all thought that Markus Howard was the bucket-getter for Marquette.

Well, he still is. He had 31 points today. But just as important as those 31 points were the 41 points and 14 boards that Sam and Joey Hauser combined for as No. 12 Marquette erased an 11-point deficit late in the second half on Saturday. There wasn’t a single shot that stood out, but that duo made big shot after big shot, and then hit clutch free throws down the stretch to ice the win.

With those two playing as well as they have been playing, Marquette is looking more and more like a serious Final Four threat.

SATURDAY WAS A GOOD DAY FOR …

THE BIG 12: Thanks to an impressive feat of scheduling, the Big 12 was able to cruise past the SEC in the Big 12/SEC Challenge thanks in large part to the fact that three of the top five teams in the SEC — No. 16 Auburn, No. 22 Mississippi State and No. 25 LSU — were not playing in the event. Kansas-Kentucky was a thriller, and Iowa State-Ole Miss had some intrigue even if it didn’t live up to it, but beyond that, the slate as a whole was something of a snooze.

But it worked out for the Big 12. They won the event 6-4.

THE BIG THREE: It’s not exactly surprising given the competition that they were playing, but No. 1 Tennessee, No. 2 Virginia and No. 3 Duke all cruised to blowout wins. Tennessee was challenged early by West Virginia, Duke was challenged a little longer by Georgia Tech, but overall there wasn’t much of a sweat.

QUINNDARY WEATHERSPOON: Weatherspoon finished with 27 points, scoring 20 in the second half as No. 22 Mississippi State landed a much-needed win over No. 16 Auburn, 92-84.

LINDELL WIGGINTON: It has been awhile since we’ve seen Wigginton play like the guy that was arguably the best returning guard in the Big 12 this season, but he did on Saturday. Wigginton scored 18 points in 21 minutes off the bench, shooting 7-for-10 from three and making three threes to help Iowa State land a win at Ole Miss. Getting Wigginton and Cameron Lard playing better is the key to the Cyclones reaching their season.

SATURDAY WAS A BAD DAY FOR …

KANSAS STATE: The Wildcats had won five straight games, turning their season around and setting themselves on a course as one of college basketball’s biggest sleepers, and then the SEC/Big 12 Challenge comes along and Kansas State goes and loses to Texas A&M, who entered this game with a 7-10 record having lost six of their last seven. That’s not ideal.

MISSOURI: The Tigers led No. 25 LSU by 14 points with 2:08 left, and not only did they managed to find a way to get to overtime, but they lost in overtime and failed to cover 5.5 points. This was a bad beat for Missouri and the people that bet on them.

TRAVIS STEELE: It’s bad enough that Xavier blew an 11 point second half lead and lost at home to No. 12 Marquette, but part of the reason that the Musketeers lost is that Steele, with 3:34 left in the game, was hit with a technical foul right after Marquette had regained the lead. He’s had better days.

ISAAC COPELAND: Not only did Nebraska lose at home to Ohio State, the third straight loss for the Huskers as they fight for a spot in the NCAA tournament, but they suffered a much more significant loss: Isaac Copeland is done for the year after tearing his ACL, and he tore it going up for a meaningless dunk after he was called for a travel. Just brutal.

JORDAN GOODWIN: The Billikens might have lost their chance to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament on Saturday with a 54-53 loss to Davidson, and that loss was due to Jordan Goodwin missing a pair of free throws with just 0.4 seconds left on the clock. That’s a tough one to swallow.

FINAL THOUGHT

Overall, I know the Big Ten is a good basketball conference.

There are two very real national title contenders at the top of the league in Michigan and Michigan State, and they legit.

But beyond that, what are we talking about here?

Because the further we get into the season, the more that I am starting to believe that there is a giant mass of mediocrity in the league once you get past the top two teams.

We all thought Maryland was the team that was going to emerge as the contender to the Michigan schools, but after getting worked by the Wolverines, the Terps turned around and lost to Illinois on Saturday. That’s not good. Neither is the emergence of Wisconsin as potentially the third-best team in the conference after they had a string of losing four out of five, including a home game to Minnesota and a pair of games where they couldn’t crack 15 first half points. Purdue has looked great in metrics like KenPom and NET, but that’s largely due to the number of close losses they have against the likes of Florida State, Virginia Tech and Texas. I don’t trust Iowa or Minnesota. Ohio State just snapped a five-game losing streak against Nebraska, who is on a three-game losing streak. Indiana has lost six in a row.

I fully expect at least nine teams from the Big Ten to get to the NCAA tournament because the Pac-12 is awful, the Mountain West only has one potential at-large team and the Atlantic 10 has none. The bids have to come from somewhere.

But that doesn’t mean I think that those teams are going to be great once they get there.

Dosunmu, Illinois beat No. 13 Maryland 78-67 at MSG

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NEW YORK — Ayo Dosunmu scored 20 points, Tevian Jones had 18 and Illinois beat No. 13 Maryland 78-67 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

Andres Feliz had 15 points and the Fighting Illini (6-14, 2-7 Big Ten) snapped a two-game skid by handing the Terrapins their second straight conference loss.

Bruno Fernando led Maryland (16-5, 7-3) with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Anthony Cowan Jr. had 18 points and Jalen Smith had 11.

The Terrapins led by 11 during the first half, but Illinois pulled within 34-30 at the break after Dosunmu scored all the Illini’s points on a 9-2 run.

Illinois hit four 3-pointers in a span of 1:27 early in the second half — including two by Trent Frazier — to take a 42-40 lead. Maryland ran off seven straight points, Illinois countered with six consecutive to regain the lead, then Maryland used a 10-4 run for a 57-52 advantage.

Illinois responded with a 10-2 spurt, capped by Jones’ fourth 3 of the game with 4:49 left, and the Illini kept their poise rom there. Feliz made five free throws and Dosunmu had a fast-break layup and hit two other layups to extend the lead to 72-63.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: In the second half, Illinois made 50 percent of its shots from the field (13 of 26), including 6 of 14 from 3, plus 16 of 17 from the foul line. For the game, Illinois shot 42.4 percent from the field, 34.8 percent from 3 and 90.9 percent from the stripe.

Maryland: According to data culled by KenPom.com, the Terrapins are the fourth youngest team in the nation. The young club has to be more careful with the ball after committing 21 turnovers to Illinois’ nine.

HOOPS AND PUCKS

For the fourth straight year, Madison Square Garden hosted a day-night Big Ten basketball and hockey doubleheader. Penn State and Michigan met in the hockey game Saturday night.