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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.

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.

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.

No. 13 Penn State earns statement win at Purdue

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Penn State basketball is gaining national attention for its recent play.

The Nittany Lions pushed their winning streak to seven on Tuesday night with a 88-76 road win at Purdue. Penn State stays firmly in the Big Ten race because of another impressive victory. Winning at Purdue this season has been a nightmare for opponents. Ask Virginia. Or Michigan State. Maybe Wisconsin or Iowa. The Boilermakers beat those four teams by at least 19 points each at Mackey Arena.

So for Penn State to earn yet another Big Ten road win over a strong opponent really says something. During this seven-game stretch the Nittany Lions have wins at Michigan, Michigan State and now in West Lafayette.

But the Penn State win on Tuesday is perhaps most impressive because of the way the Nittany Lions did it.

Because this was a win for the role players. Senior forward and leading scorer Lamar Stevens (16 points) played only nine minutes of the first half with foul trouble and got off to a sluggish start. Second-leading scorer and ace shooter Myreon Jones didn’t play with illness.

Yet Penn State responded with 10 first-half threes and established a 42-30 halftime lead. The Nittany Lions pushed the lead to as much as 24 points the second half.

Big man Mike Watkins dominated inside with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Watkins’ double-double on Stevens’ slow night helped put Penn State’s offense in a rhythm because of consistent production and positive post touches. Freshman guard Seth Lundy had a career-high 18 points and six three-pointers to offset the perimeter-shooting loss of Jones. Myles Dread stepped up with 12 points — replacing some of Jones’ lost minutes. Reserve big man John Harrar stepped up 12 points, hitting some clutch free throws when Purdue made a late push.

Penn State only shoots 32 percent from three-point range on the season. To hit a season-high 14 three-pointers without Jones, a 41 percent three-point shooter, is a massive confidence boost. Penn State’s offense only had eight turnovers. The Nittany Lions are hitting their stride at the right time.

A game behind Maryland in the loss column atop the Big Ten standings, the remaining schedule isn’t exceedingly difficult for Penn State. Two of the seven games left come against Northwestern.

This recent stretch also proves that Penn State basketball, for the first time in years, might be a real threat for an NCAA tournament run because of its overall talent. At one point, this team sat 12-5 and only 2-4 in the Big Ten. A three-game losing streak put Penn State in jeopardy of a tailspin. The Nittany Lions responded with four straight road wins. They’ve placed themselves in a strong spot for the rest of the conference schedule.

Penn State hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2001. This is the latest in the season the Nittany Lions have been this high in the Big Ten standings in 34 years. The unlikely story of Penn State basketball competing for a Big Ten title in mid-February has turned into one of college basketball’s most surprising stories this season.

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Penn State wins at Michigan State, Jalen Smith’s excellence continues for Maryland

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Tuesday night threatened to go all kinds of college basketball crazy with favorites trailing late, but things mostly fell the way you would expect.

That’s not to say, however, there weren’t some meaningful and interesting results across the country.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Penn State knocks of Michigan State in East Lansing

Whatever concerns of a collapse there may have been about Penn State when the Nittany Lions dropped three-straight a couple weeks ago, well, those are proving to be unfounded.

No. 22 Penn State continued its resurgence under Pat Chambers on Tuesday with an impressive 75-70 win over No. 16 Michigan State at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, the Nittany Lions’ fifth-straight – and by far best – victory since that three-game January skid.

Not only is Penn State clearly on track to make its first NCAA tournament in Chambers’ ninth season in University Park, but the Nittany Lions are putting together a resume for a sterling seed line.

Chambers’ group is now a game behind in the Big Ten standings with wins at Michigan State and Michigan along with home wins against Maryland, Ohio State and Indiana during league play. The offense can be a little shaky at times – they shot 41 percent from the floor against the Spartans – but the defense is legit, especially inside with Mike Watkins’ rim protection anchoring things. Maybe the most impressive thing Tuesday was the way Penn State withstood big plays and moments from Michigan State. The Spartans, specifically Cassius Winston (who had 25 points), hit them with some big punches, but the Nittany Lions never hit the canvas like some of their previous squads likely would have.

Obviously, it’s not a crippling loss for Michigan State, for all the Penn State-related reasons above, but there are signs for concern. The loss in Madison on Saturday to a mediocre Wisconsin team that had one of its most important players suspended and another looking for a new school, well, that ain’t a great look. Following up with a home loss, even to a solid team, isn’t either, at least not for a team that only intermittently this season looked like the preseason No. 1 and national title contender many of us believed they’d be.

It just seems there’s not enough going on beyond Winston for Michigan State. The senior point guard put up 25, but went 8 of 21 from the floor and 3 of 11 from 3-point range. He had nine assists, yes, but didn’t have a go-to second option. No other Spartan scored more than nine points, and none took more than eight shots.

Watching Michigan State, it’s easy to see so many of the pieces with Winston at the helm and a bunch of types of guys that have thrived on Tom Izzo teams, but it’s hard not to think about Josh Langford, the 6-foot-5, 40-percent 3-point shooter and double-digit scorer who won’t play for the Spartans due to injury. Langford running the wing alongside Winston makes Michigan State a different team.

But they’re this team, and Langford won’t be suiting up. If Michigan State hasn’t been able to consistently get enough from the supporting cast around Winston, time is running out to think they ever will. This Spartan teams is really good, and sometimes great, but their fatal flaw isn’t one that is particularly difficult to exploit.

2. Duke was mostly bad, but good enough to beat Boston College

Duke shot 37.7 percent from the field, including 26.7 percent in the first half. The Blue Devils missed their first 14 3-pointers, finally making one – their lone make – with under 8 minutes to play. Vernon Carey played most of the second half in foul trouble.

It was ugly and ineffective against a Boston College team that has lost five of its last seven and doesn’t have a win against a KenPom top-50 team this season.

Still wasn’t enough for the Blue Devils to lose.

Duke got a lift offensively from Joey Baker and enough from Tre Jones and Carey while the defense turned things up enough late to give Coach K and Duke a 63-55 road ACC win.

It was far from a good performance from Duke, but when you’re on the road at BC for a mid-week, that falls directly into the Just Don’t Lose category when you’re angling for a No. 1 seed. An icky performance isn’t exactly surprising, and if it’s in a win, it’s not at all damaging, except for the eyeballs of anyone who spent two hours watching these two teams combine to go 3-33 from 3-point range. With North Carolina this weekend and Florida State on Monday, the Blue Devils being stuck in neutral isn’t exactly surprising. Nor is it discouraging.

Duke was pretty dreadful offensively. They were 1-15 from 3-point range overall. They were 8 of 18 (44.4 percent) on 2s in the first half. Jones finished with 18 points, but it was a lot of work to get there as he went 7 of 15 from the field. Carey tallied 17 points on 5 of 13 shooting. Cassius Stanley was 2 of 8. Matthew Hurt was 1 of 6 and didn’t even play in the second half. Baker was perhaps the best offensively, at least for a stretch, scoring eight second-half points on 3 of 3 shooting.

So all in all, a pretty terrible offensive performance, but give Duke has a top-five offense for the year, it’s hard to see anything but an outlier performance. We know Duke is really good offensively. Tonight’s work just wasn’t emblematic of the big picture. It happens.

It was interesting to see, however, that Duke was able to put the clamps down defensively in crunch time. Three-straight Boston College turnovers courtesy of Duke’s full-court defense helped them push the lead from one to seven after the 5-minute mark.

3. Jalen Smith continues to be awesome as Maryland gets by Rutgers

Jalen Smith has been great all season long, but the Maryland big man has been spectacular lately. The 6-foot-10 sophomore continued the trend against Rutgers, posting 14 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks in the Terrapins’ 56-51 win over a tough Scarlet Knights squad.

Fourteen points. Fifteen rebounds. Six blocks. Not to mention being 3 of 7 form 3-point range.

What an absolutely awesome performance. Not that it’s anything new for Smith.

The Baltimore native is averaging 21 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game over his last six contests. He’s playing himself up NBA draft boards every single time he’s on the floor. Maryland, by the way, is 5-1 while Smith has been on this especially splendid tear. If the Terps stay in the Big Ten race and Smith continues to cook, we’re going to be looking at him as a first-team All-American and national player of the year contender. He’s been that good.

The Terps’ immediate schedule includes two must-wins – home games against Nebraska and Northwestern – stacked between huge matchups at Illinois and Michigan State. Then it’s a sprint to the finish against some of the Big Ten’s best teams. It should be a wild league race, and Maryland will be in the thick of it.

Potter leads Wisconsin to 58-49 win over No. 20 Penn State

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Micah Potter scored 18 of his 24 points in the first half and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead Wisconsin over No. 20 Penn State 58-49 on Saturday.

Brad Davison had 11 points and 13 rebounds for the Badgers (10-6, 3-2 Big Ten), who bounced back nicely after losing 71-70 to Illinois on Wednesday night. Kobe King added 10 points.

It was a successful start to a key stretch for Wisconsin, which hosts No. 12 Maryland on Tuesday night and visits No. 8 Michigan State on Friday.

Lamar Stevens had 19 points and 13 rebounds for the Nittany Lions (12-4, 2-3), who had won 13 in a row at home. Isaiah Brockington scored 15 points.

Wisconsin never trailed and led by as many as 12 with 14:13 to play.

Myreon Jones gave Penn State some life when he hit an off-balance 3-pointer that sparked a 10-2 run that cut the Badgers’ lead to four.

But the Nittany Lions missed their next three shots, all 3-pointers, and Wisconsin got baskets on back-to-back possessions, with a 3 from Davison putting the game out of reach.

Both teams got off to a sluggish start. It took nearly five minutes for either team to find the basket.

The Badgers went 0 for 7 from the floor before Potter hit a layup. Potter then hit two 3s and another layup before Stevens snapped Penn State’s 0-for-12 skid with a turnaround jumper.

Brockington made a 3-pointer with 21 seconds left to cut Wisconsin’s halftime lead to 31-22.

BIG PICTURE

While Potter was the biggest star for Wisconsin, the Badgers have gotten contributions from up and down the lineup all season. They entered with one of the most balanced lineups in the Big Ten, with all five starters averaging over 8.5 points per game.

Penn State hadn’t scored fewer than 58 points in a game this season. Now the Nittany Lions have struggled offensively in back-to-back outings. They lost 72-61 to Rutgers on Tuesday night.

UP NEXT

Wisconsin hosts Maryland on Tuesday.

Penn State visits Minnesota on Wednesday.