Contenders looking to catch Michigan State needed to get an unexpected break somewhere along the way. They got it on Wednesday night, in the form of a flu bug and Kevin Coble. The former limited Raymar Morgan to just 18 minutes of action against Northwestern. The latter poured in 31 points in leading the Wildcats to a shocking 70-63 win at the Breslin Center.
Michigan State still held its usual rebounding edge, dominating the glass to the tune of 39-19, with Goran Suton grabbing 14 boards. Kalin Lucas had another strong game with 20 points. But turnovers were a huge factor in this one. MSU turned it over 18 times, while NU took care of the ball and had only seven miscues. It was enough to allow the "Cats three-headed tandem of Coble, Michael Thompson and Craig Moore to combine for 62 points and lead the way to the upset. It's Michigan State's first conference loss, while everyone else has at least two. So the Spartans still hold command position, but this game opened up opportunities for others to make it a race.
In other action it was...
Purdue 70 Minnesota 63
The Boilermakers continued their resurgence from a shaky December and 0-2 conference start with a huge win in Minneapolis. Matt Painter's team didn't shoot a lot of three-balls, but they were an efficient 6-11 on the ones that did toss up. Meantime, the Gophers clanged the treys off the rim to the tune of 3-for-19. JaJuan Johnson led all scorers with 19 points and also pulled down eight rebounds. E'Twaun Moore scored 16, while Lawrence Westbrook was kept in check with 12 for Minnesota. The winner of this game was going to be one of two teams poised to capitalize on MSU's misfortune, and Purdue is now back in the race as a serious contender.
Illinois 67 Ohio State 49
The Illini were the other team that benefited the most from Michigan State's loss. On Tuesday night in front of the ESPN cameras, Illinois coasted to an easy home win. Forcing twenty turnovers out of the Buckeyes was the difference.
Penn State 73 Michigan 58
It was a big game between teams jousting for position in the middle and the race for NCAA Tournament berths. The Lions outshot the Wolverines from the floor 58-39 percent, and Michigan was even colder from behind the arc, clanging a 5-for-30 number off the rim. Days after being designated an All-Conference star here on Big Ten Country, Manny Harris was held to 4 points. DeShawn Sims was strong for UM, with 21 points and 11 rebounds, but Jamelle Cornely answered him inside with a 17/11 effort, while the Talor Battle/Stanley Pringle backcourt combined for 27 points.
Iowa 73 Wisconsin 69 (OT)
The defending champs are now in danger of letting their season get completely off the rails. Iowa beat UW at their own game, with a huge edge from the line. The Hawkeyes won scoring at the stripe 26-8, and David Palmer led up everyone with 21 points and 7 rebounds. Wisconsin now has its back to the wall this weekend when it visits Illinois. Their trademark tight defense missing in action, it's apparent how much UW misses shutdown guard Michael Flowers from last year.
Player Of The Sequence: Kevin Coble. We'll give honorable mention to DeShawn Sims who tried to carry his team in a losing effort.