Michigan State had a chance to salt away the Big Ten race on Tuesday night in West Lafayette. But the Spartans were outplayed by Purdue in a performance that left Tom Izzo deeply disappointed. The end result was a 72-54 loss that let the Boilermakers pull to within one game of the conference lead with five to play.
Purdue's win was keyed by superior shooting, as the Boilers outshot the Spartans 48-33% from the floor. They were able to mitigate MSU's rebounding edge, holding it to a 34-29 margin. All three Purdue guards hit the glass, grabbing six boards apiece. JaJuan Johnson led the way in scoring with 17 points.
In other games...
Penn State 38 Illinois 33
When I checked the scores on Thursday morning, I could have sworn ESPN.com had malfunctioned and left the halftime score up here. But that's not a misprint. On their home floor with a chance to join Purdue in being one game on the heels of first place, the Illinois offense completely imploded. Of course Penn State's wasn't much better, but victory cures all ills. Talor Battle's 11 points constituted a virtual offensive explosion in this game, and he was the only scorer in double digits. Amazingly, Illinois did not attempt a single free throw in a home conference game. Penn State got a win that dramatically boosts their NCAA chances, as discussed in the post below.
Northwestern 72 Ohio State 69
The Wildcats' dreams of a miracle NCAA bid are still on the respirator after a win that was marked by superlative individual efforts on both sides. Kevin Coble had 26 and Craig Moore delivered 23 for NU. In the meantime, Jon Diebler for Ohio State showed that when he's hot, he can really light it up, cashing in 28. Evan Turner was kept somewhat in check, though he still posted 14 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists. If Turner doesn't win the MVP, a reason would be a tendency to turn the ball over and he had a season-high eight miscues in this game.
Michigan 74 Minnesota 62
Yet another team strengthens its NCAA case, as the Wolverine bench comes up big in Ann Arbor. It was three reserves leading the way, none more so than Zack Novak who scored 18 points on 6-of-10 three-point shooting. It was the key to the entire UM win as they shot 13-of-28 from behind the arc, while Minnesota stumbled to 5-of-21. Novak got help from fellow second-teamers Stu Douglass and Kelvin Grady, who each chipped in 12.
Wisconsin 68 Indiana 51
The Badgers got their fifth win in a row, pulling away from IU in the second half. For the third straight game, Bo Ryan's team won the turnover battle big, 15-5 in this case. Trevon Hughes had a hot night with 21 and Joe Krabbenhoft added 18. Devan Dumes returned to the lineup for the Hoosiers after a two-game suspension for throwing an elbow, and scored 12, nine of them from the free throw line.
Player of the Sequence: For the second time this year, it goes to a bench player. I'll take Zack Novak, who came up with the game that kept his team alive to dance in March.