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Thursday’s Things to Know: Illinois’ B1G title hopes hurt, San Diego State survives scare and Tulsa wins without playing

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Even with conference tournament season upon us, some of the most interesting things of the day happened off the court. Kansas responded to the NCAA’s notice of allegations. John Beilein hung out at the Crisler Center. As for actual basketball Thursday, here’s what you need to know:

Illinois’ B1G title hopes fade

It’s been a really solid, resurgent season for Illinois. A needed one given the two sub-.500 years to start Brad Underwood’s tenure in Champaign.

It won’t likely end with a Big Ten title, though.

Illinois’ hopes of claiming a piece of the regular-season B1G championship took a critical hit with a 71-63 loss to Ohio State in Columbus. The Illini are now a game back of Michigan State, Maryland and Wisconsin in the Big Ten standings and would need all three – none of whom play each other – to lose in their B1G finales this weekend and then the Illini would need to beat Iowa as well.

So, probably not happening. But with the NCAA tournament looming ahead, Illinois has a welcome consolation prize in its future.

Illinois led by as many as 11 in the first half, but saw that lead slip away with the Buckeyes taking an 11-point advantage themselves after halftime. Ayo Dosunmu was electric for the Illini, scoring 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting to go along with five boards and five assists, but the rest of the roster didn’t provide much in the way of offensive support. Andres Feliz was the only other Illini to lodge double figures with 11 points, but he was 4 of 14 from the floor. Illinois was 6 of 22 (27.3 percent) from 3-point range.

Ohio State, meanwhile, got a 17 points and 11 rebounds off the bench from E.J. Liddell while Kaleb Wesson had 19 points. CJ Walker had 15 points, six boards and five assists. The Buckeyes are heading into the postseason on something of a roll after their turn-of-the-year struggles (in which they lost six of seven games). They’ve ripped off four straight that includes victories against Maryland, Michigan and the Illini. Michigan State is up next Sunday in the finale in yet another resume-boosting opportunity in the Big Ten.

San Diego State moves on after scare

There was a little space of time Thursday afternoon where teams like Dayton, Florida State and Seton Hall saw an opening. Air Force, the No. 9 seed in the Mountain West, led San Diego State, a presumptive No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, nearing the midway point of the second half. For a moment or two there, it look as though a top seed might open up.

Then the Aztecs got back to being the dominant force they are in that league, holding Air Force without a bucket for nearly the final four minutes and closing out the last 94 seconds on a 7-0 run.

It was a 13-point win, but still one in which they trailed for a big chunk of the game. Not great evidence to refute the idea that San Diego State has gone wobbly lately. First they lost at home to UNLV (who lost its MWC tourney opener Thursday) and then beat Colorado State and Nevada by just single digits. Easily could just be a team that’s been mostly unbeatable all season long getting a little bored with the stakes lowered a little bit. Or it could be something more.

We might find out in a couple weeks.

Tulsa wins a piece of the American

It wasn’t unreasonable to think heading into this season Frank Haith might be feeling the heat at Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane made the First Four in his second season there and spent the subsequent three seasons missing the NCAA tournament. His peers in the American picked his team to finish 10th in the 12-team league in the preseason poll. All that doesn’t scream job security.

Winning the conference does, though.

Tulsa clinched at least a share of the American on Thursday when UConn knocked off Houston, 77-71, in Storrs. The Hurricane can wrap up the title to themselves if they’re able to beat Wichita State on the road Sunday.

No. 19 Ohio State wins fourth straight by beating Illinois

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Kaleb Wesson scored 19 points to lead No. 19 Ohio State past No. 23 Illinois 71-63 on Thursday night.

E.J. Liddell tied a career high with 17 points and had 11 rebounds for the Buckeyes (21-9, 11-8 Big Ten), who have won four in a row and nine of their last 11. They are playing well at a critical time, with a road matchup against No. 16 Michigan State looming this weekend and the Big Ten tournament beginning Wednesday in Indianapolis.

Ayo Dosunmu had 21 points and five assists to pace Illinois (20-10, 12-7), which saw its conference championship hopes fade a bit more after starting the day a half-game behind leaders Maryland, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Still, the Illini are poised for a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years.

Illinois led by as many as 11 in the first half and held a 37-30 lead at the break. The Buckeyes let fly with the 3-pointers in the opening frame but hit just one in seven tries.

After Illinois went up by seven, Ohio State chipped away and Kaleb Wesson’s fadeaway jumper tied the score at 51 with 9:30 left, part of an 11-2 run by the Buckeyes, who then built an eight-point lead.

After Wesson picked up his fourth and fifth fouls in a 15-second span, Illinois got within five with a steal by Dosunmu and a coast-to-coast layup by Andres Feliz. But Liddell’s shot in the paint and a couple of foul shots by Duane Washington Jr. gave the Buckeyes a 69-60 lead with 32 seconds remaining.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini’s second-half shooting was cold and 14 turnovers didn’t help.

Ohio State: Despite bad 3-point shooting, the Buckeyes found a way to rally as a tumultuous regular season winds down.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Buckeyes could move up slightly, but they’re more concerned about tournament seeding at this point.

UP NEXT

Illinois: Hosts Iowa in its regular-season finale on Sunday.

Ohio State: Finishes the season on Sunday at Michigan State.

Illinois outlasts No. 9 Penn State

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Ayo Dosunmu felt well enough during warm-ups to return to lineup. That was enough for Illinois against No. 9 Penn State.

Dosunmu, the Fighting Illini’s leading scorer who missed the previous game with a knee injury, scored 24 points, and Illinois snapped a four-game losing streak with a 62-56 victory over Penn State on Tuesday night.

“He knows we struggled without him,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “He did what really, really good players do. He elevated his game.”

Kofi Cockburn added 14 points for the Fighting Illini (17-9, 9-6 Big Ten), who led most of the way and ended Penn State’s eight-game winning streak.

NBC SPORTS BRACKETOLOGY

The win also snapped Illinois’ six-game losing streak against Penn State.

Lamar Stevens scored 13 points for the Nittany Lions (20-6, 10-5), who entered with their highest ranking in the AP Top 25 since they were No. 9 at the same point of the 1996 season.

Izaiah Brockington added 10 points for the Nittany Lions, who trailed 30-26 at halftime and by as many as nine points with 5:35 to play.

Penn State got a pair of free throws from Seth Lundy that cut its deficit to 58-56 with a minute left, but Dosunmu iced it with a layup 30 seconds later.

The Nittany Lions made just 21 of 58 shots, well below their 45% average. Penn State shooters made just 4 of 19 3-pointers.

“We haven’t shot this poorly the way we’ve been playing,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “Obviously, that was shocking to me.”

COLLEGE BASKETBALL SCOREBOARD

It was back-and-forth early as teams swapped the lead five times in the first. The Illini controlled play for 9:06 and Griffin gave them their biggest lead of the half when he hit a 3-pointer, drew a foul and hit the ensuing free throw to put the Illini up 21-16 with 8:54 before halftime.

Penn State used an 8-1 run, capped by a steal and dunk by Lundy, to retake the lead 4:22 later.

But Illinois got eight straight points from Dosunmu before a put-back by Giorgi Bezhanishvili to go up 30-26 at the break.

“This is definitely a reality check,” Penn State guard Myles Dread said. “We’ve been on cloud nine for eight games. As good as it feels to win, it feels much worse to lose.”

EXHALE AND EXALT

Illinois players hooted, shrieked and hollered as they filed off the court and into the Bryce Jordan Center’s visiting locker room.

The celebration continued when Underwood and the rest of the coaches entered. They praised their team’s resilience and highlighted Da’Monte Williams’ defensive efforts against Stevens, who was 3 for 11 from the floor.

“We had won seven in a row and you become the hunted,” Underwood said. “We’re not desperate. I think there was some urgency, but desperate is never in my vocabulary.”

ROUGH PLAY

Watkins picked up a technical foul for shoving Dosunmu shortly after the whistle as both had been jostling for a loose ball.

Watkins’ temper had been rising in the moments leading up to their confrontation. Penn State’s big forward was surly after he had drawn physical coverage down low on his previous two shot attempts and failed to get foul calls

The sequence drew the ire of Penn State fans who booed the officiating crew as they disappeared into the tunnel for halftime and again when they emerged for the second half.

THE BIG PICTURE

Illinois: For the Illini, getting Dosunmu back certainly helped. The sophomore guard had missed Saturday’s loss at Rutgers after suffering an injury to his left knee is a win over Michigan State on Feb. 11. Despite their recent shooting woes, they looked confident against a strong Penn State defense that’s been nearly flawless at home.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions entered a game behind Maryland in the hunt for the Big Ten’s top seed. There’s still plenty of time for them to recover and make up ground.

UP NEXT

Illinois: Hosts Nebraska on Monday.

Penn State: Visits Indiana on Sunday.

No ‘structural damage’ for Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu after fall Tuesday

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It was a a scary ending to a brutal finish for Illinois. A furious comeback against Michigan State that came up short featured star Ayo Dosunmu make an awkward fall that looked as though it could have been a serious injury.

The Illini and Dosunmu got good news Wednesday, though.

The sophomore guard underwent an MRI on Wednesday that revealed “no structural damage,” the school announced.

“What happened with Ayo last night is as difficult a situation as you’ll see a young man go through, and a feeling where the outcome of the game goes from primary to secondary in a split second,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said in a statement released by the school. “We received positive news today from the MRI scan. Our medical staff will work with him around the clock on treatment and recovery. Ayo and his family have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from Illini Nation and college basketball fans everywhere.”

There was no clarification on what type of injury Dosunmu might be dealing with or what the timetable for his return will be, but avoiding the catastrophic outcome is certainly enough to be happy about for Illini fans at the moment.

The 6-foot-5 Chicago native is averaging 15.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists while shooting 47 percent from the floor this season. Illinois, which has now lost three-straight,  has a difficult road trip ahead of it with a contest at Rutgers on Saturday followed by a trip to Penn State on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Michigan State, Penn State win on the road

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College basketball didn’t have a ton of games on Tuesday night.

But we learned more about a crowded Big Ten race with two key road wins.

And three ranked teams struggled to put away feisty unranked teams during a night of close games.

Michigan State survives at No. 22 Illinois

College basketball’s biggest matchup came from Champaign on Tuesday night.

Michigan State claimed a crucial road win over No. 22 Illinois with a 70-69 victory. Stopping a three-game losing streak, this was one of the Spartans’ biggest wins of the season.

Jumping out to an 8-0 advantage, it looked like Michigan State would win this one with ease. The Spartans led by 17 at the half. For about the first 30 minutes, Michigan State looked like one of college basketball’s elite teams in this one.

Then Illinois made a furious rally to take the lead with under five minutes left. A back-and-forth finish ensued. Cassius Winston’s missed layup was followed by a Xavier Tillman putback dunk with just over six seconds left for the game-winning bucket.

Illinois sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu took the ball the length of the floor on the ensuing possession and twisted his knee before losing the ball. Dosunmu (17 points) was a warrior in the second half. But he had to be carried off the floor by two Illinois staffers following the heartbreaking loss. Dosunmu’s status going forward is certainly a concern for Illinois in a brutal Big Ten race.

But the story of this one is Michigan State holding on to win.

The Spartans blew a 20-point lead and got cold in the second half after a hot start. On an off night from Winston (12 points, four turnovers), freshman Rocket Watts (21 points) came up huge in the scoring column for Michigan State. Watts created offense off the dribble by himself when it was difficult for the Spartans to generate offense.

Xavier Tillman (17 points, 11 rebounds) also came through with a double-double as he converted a few key post touches on mismatches late in the second half.

This one certainly wasn’t pretty. And Michigan State still has to figure out how to get Winston going on certain off nights. But for Watts to step up like that and the Spartans to take Illinois’ best shot is a very positive sign of a turnaround. If Michigan State wanted to stay in the Big Ten race, they needed a road win like this to keep pace with teams like Maryland and Penn State.

No. 13 Penn State pushes win streak to seven with statement win

Perhaps the night’s most impressive win belongs to Penn State.

The Nittany Lions blitzed Purdue with 10 first-half three-pointers to claim another Big Ten road win. On a seven-game winning streak, the Nittany Lions have four road wins in that span.

Tuesday night’s win was impressive because of the way Penn State did it. With Lamar Stevens battling foul problems and second-leading scorer Myreon Jones (illness) out, the role guys stepped up.

I have much more on Penn State’s notable road victory here. It’s been a long time since Penn State basketball was relevant. This is one of the most fun and surprising stories of the 2019-20 college basketball season.

Three ranked teams survive scares

Some close games scared some ranked teams across college basketball on Tuesday night.

In a slow night for the top 25, two SEC teams needed second-half comebacks over unranked teams. And the Big Ten’s leader survived a final push from a conference bottom feeder.

After jumping out to a double-digit lead, Vanderbilt couldn’t close No. 12 Kentucky at home. Tyrese Maxey scored 25 points to pace the Wildcats past the Commodores for an SEC road win. Ashton Hagans also registered a triple-double for Kentucky in the win.

Keeping pace with the Wildcats in the SEC was No. 25 LSU. The Tigers also needed a second-half rally as they held off Missouri. Skylar Mays (23 points) and Darius Days (20 points, 10 rebounds) paced the five double-figure scorers for LSU. The wins for both keep Kentucky and the Tigers tied atop the SEC with 9-2 conference marks.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten’s leader also had some trouble. Maryland needed to get a stop on its final two defensive possessions to seal a win over Nebraska. Jalen Smith registered a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds, coming up with a key defensive play late in the game to help keep the Terps on top.

The win keeps Maryland on top of the Big Ten standings. The Terps are a game up on Penn State and two up on the Spartans after Tuesday night.

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Kansas and K-State Brawl, TCU’s signature win, Villanova beats Butler

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College basketball had plenty of action on Tuesday night.

But instead of a bevy of upsets and huge top-25 games, the action came in the form of a Kansas/Kansas State brawl and a new bubble team picking up a signature win.

There was also a top-25 matchup in the Big East as Villanova squared off against Butler. 

Kansas/Kansas State brawl erupts at end of rivalry game

The big story of Tuesday night involves Kansas and Kansas State.

This inner-state rivalry lost some steam with the Wildcats in rebuilding mode this season. But as we found out Tuesday, there is still plenty of intensity when these Big 12 rivals take the floor.

At the end of a Jayhawk blowout home win, a brawl started under a basket. Video came from all over the place as Kansas and Kansas State players took swings and even picked up a chair.

It overshadowed a rivalry win for the No. 3 Jayhawks. Suspensions will likely be handed out. These teams also have a return matchup at Kansas State to look forward to on Feb. 29. We’ll hear more about this fight throughout the week.

TCU picks up signature win against No. 18 Texas Tech

During a major season of turmoil where upsets are normal and road wins are nearly impossible, TCU has stayed in the mix for an NCAA tournament bid with a positive 11-5 start.

The Horned Frogs lacked a signature win though.

That changed on Tuesday night with TCU claiming a 65-54 win over No. 18 Texas Tech. Now with a Q1 win on the profile, TCU should make a move up the NET to get in respectable bubble territory.

TCU still has work to do if they want to secure a bid. Only one Q1 win, one Q2 win and a combined 2-5 record in those two quadrants isn’t going to cut it.

But with a 4-2 record in the Big 12, TCU is a team to keep tabs of the next several weeks. After getting absolutely destroyed by an average of 26 points per game the last two losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma, this is a quality bounceback win for the Horned Frogs. And the type of win that can jumpstart a postseason push.

No. 9 Villanova cruises past No. 16 Butler for Big East home win

Tuesday night’s only top-25 clash was in the Big East. Villanova ran past Butler for a 76-61 home win to keep pace with Seton Hall in the Big East standings.

Jermaine Samuels paced five double-figure scorers for Villanova with 20 points.

Big East brutality continued for Butler meanwhile.

The Bulldogs have lost three straight games in conference play. All three losses have come by at least eight points. It’s not only that Butler is losing but they’re playing poorly.

It feels like the Wildcats will once again remain in the Big East title picture this season. If Butler wants to say the same, they’ll need to figure things out quickly to fix its January swoon.