I was only able to catch half the action in person, but what I saw was nothing short of crazy. Whether it was Northwestern taking Ohio State to overtime, or Talor Battle hitting the clutch shots down the stretch in Penn State's upset of Wisconsin, the fans in attendance got their money's worth out of today's showing.
In the kickoff game, heavily favored Ohio State and star freshman Jared Sullinger expected to get through without much trouble. I guess nobody told Northwestern. The game was never out of reach for the Wildcats. A back-and-forth matchup the entire game, Northwestern refused to go away, and Ohio State fans were faced with the possibility that their tournament may conclude earlier than they expected.
It appeared that it was all going to come down to a last second shot, and everybody in the arena knew where the ball was going. Jared Sullinger got the ball in the low post and attempted a turnaround jumper as regulation time expired only to have it go off the iron. The game was headed to overtime.
During the overtime period, things got ugly for Northwestern. Between poor shot selection and the inability to stop Sullinger down low, Ohio State built a lead that the Wildcats couldn't overcome. Time after time down the floor, Sullinger got the ball, bodied into the defender, and drew the foul.
Frustrations boiled over when Luka Mirkovic was called for a technical foul for throwing his mouthpiece to the floor. The clock hadn't hit zero yet but the game was essentially over.
Most of you are all too familiar with the second game of the day. Illinois took on Michigan in a tricky 4/5 matchup. Illinois hoped to get through the matchup and have a shot at revenge against Ohio State, but a loss of composure and fatigue cost the Illini late in the game as they squandered a 12 point lead and watched Michigan take control at the end.
What seemed to be a sure thing for the NCAA tournament now has Illinois fans with some doubt about whether or not the Illini will make the expanded field of 68. They have some quality wins under their belt, but bracket buster after bracket buster is making its case for the tournament, and the uncertainty is alarming many fans. The Illini are likely in, but last year is proof that a bid isn't a sure thing until the committee says so.
Now onto the games I actually got to see in person. The third game of the day was between Purdue and Michigan State. Most of the players are off-limits, but I was able to meet Purdue's Robbie Hummel before the game. Purdue is good now, but with Hummel they would likely be ahead of Ohio State and possibly have even won a Big Ten Championship.
Purdue has been one of the hottest teams in the country as of late, but a stinging loss to Iowa left a bitter taste in the mouth of the Boilermakers. Michigan State barely squeaked by Iowa Thursday, but just a few minutes into the game, it was evident that Sparty came to play. In other words, Kalin Lucas wasn't ready to go home yet.
Michigan State opened up a sizeable lead early and never let go of it. In a house full of Purdue fans (tonight was a sellout, by the way), Lucas made contested shot after contested shot and found open teammates. I don't know what it is about a tournament, but Kalin Lucas was on another level tonight.
On the flip side, Purdue fans were burdened all night by questionable call after questionable call. Everyone's inclination is to point fingers at a referee, but the fact Matt Painter picked up a technical foul in the first half is evidence that something wasn't right tonight. Time and time again a call was made and the Purdue fans expressed their displeasure quite vocally. It seemed to have an effect on the Purdue players.
One thing I've noticed, not just this weekend, is that while the argument can be made that refereeing doesn't directly favor one team or another, it has an effect on the fans. And many times, the fans have an effect on the players. So in a roundabout way, the referees can have an influence on the players.
The dejected look on the Purdue team told the story tonight. By the end of the second half, the team appeared as though it had just given up, which is completely atypical of a Matt Painter team.
Regardless, Michigan State moves on to play Saturday. But who would they play? Logic would say Wisconsin. The number three seed in the tournament, the Badgers execute their style of play, which highlights precision and ball control.
But nobody saw this coming. Wisconsin games typically have a low-scoring result, but this was beyond the usual.
Penn State started the game on a 12-0 run that had Bo Ryan searching for answers early on. After awhile the two teams settled down, but by halftime the score was only 20-16 in favor of Penn State. Maybe the two teams would turn it up in the second half? Think again.
Talor Battle willed his team through the entire second half, and when it came to crunch time, he pushed his team past the Badgers. It wasn't flashy. Battle shot only 3-18 from the field including 2-9 from the arc. But with the game on the line, Battle hit a three and a clutch free throw to give his team enough of a lead to hang on.
Penn State came away with a 36-33 win over Wisconsin. Right as the final buzzer sounded, Battle rushed over to head coach Ed DeChellis to give him a big bear hug. Wisconsin came off the court in disbelief as the chants of "Talor Battle" rang out from the miniature Penn State student section in the upper deck. Battle's had a great career and isn't ready for it to end just yet.
So where do we go from here? The remaining Saturday games between Ohio State and Michigan (no rivalry there, right?) as well as Michigan State and Penn State (Battle and Lucas should be fun to watch) promise to be some must-see action. So get some friends together and grab a seat. It's going to be one heck of a ride.