Big Ten

After startling start, Illini dominate second half to blow past Gophers

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After startling start, Illini dominate second half to blow past Gophers

Illinois has been short-handed all season with a host of injuries. But Minnesota took short-handed to a whole new level Sunday night, playing with just eight players and just six scholarship athletes after suspending three players right before the game.

And that's why it was so shocking when the Illini fell behind 11-0 right off the bat in Champaign and trailed by eight at halftime.

But the orange and blue righted the ship after halftime, shooting a terrific 73.9 percent and outscoring the visitors, 52-31, over the game's final 20 minutes to cruise to a 84-71 win at the State Farm Center.

The first half was not a good one for the Illini, who shot just 42.3 percent from the field over the opening 20 minutes. The 11-0 run to open the game by the Gophers was stunning enough, but Minnesota continued to excel and by half's end had a 20-11 rebounding advantage and a 22-8 edge in points in the paint. Jordan Murphy, Joey King and Stephon Sharp combined for 37 of the Gophers' 40 first-half points.

But the script was completely flipped after halftime. Illinois scored 13 of the half's first 16 points to completely erase the halftime gap and turn it into a two-point lead not four minutes into the period. Minnesota scored just eight points in the first 10 minutes of the second half, while Illinois had 29 at that point. The Illini led by as many as 18 in the second half and went 17-for-23 from the field and 14-for-15 from the free-throw line over the final 20 minutes.

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Illinois still finished way behind in the rebounding battle, 32-21, and was outscored in the paint, 34-28. Minnesota turned 12 offensive rebounds into 14 second-chance points, while Illinois had none. The Illini, though, did score 20 points off 17 Gopher turnovers.

Kendrick Nunn led the Illini with 25 points, going 9-for-16 from the field and hitting a trio of 3-pointers. Malcolm Hill scored 22 points, going 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. Jalen Coleman-Lands kept Illinois afloat early with four first-half 3-pointers. He finished with 18 points, going 5-for-6 from deep.

Murphy finished as the high man for the Gophers with 22 points, recording a double-double with 10 rebounds. Sharp ended with 19 and King with 17, the rest of the team contributing just 13 points.

The win sent the Illini to 13-16 overall and 5-11 in the Big Ten. They have two regular-season games remaining: Thursday against Maryland and next weekend against Penn State.

The loss snapped a modest two-game winning streak for the Gophers, who won back-to-back games after starting Big Ten play 0-13. Sunday's loss sent them to 8-20 overall and 2-14 in conference play. Minnesota finishes its regular season with a Wednesday game against Wisconsin and a game against Rutgers next weekend.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.