Big Ten

Denzel Valentine leads Spartans to brilliant comeback win over Kansas


Denzel Valentine leads Spartans to brilliant comeback win over Kansas

Not even a week into the season, we might already have the performance of the season.

Denzel Valentine put Michigan State on his back Tuesday night, turning in a triple-double — just the fourth Spartan ever to record a triple-double — as he led the Spartans to a 79-73 comeback win over fourth-ranked Kansas in the Champions Classic.

Michigan State trailed by as many as 13 in the first half and trailed by double digits in the second half, too, but with Valentine making one basket after another down the stretch, the Spartans erased that deficit and made an early season statement at the United Center.

“I want to win more of these early games,” head coach Tom Izzo said after the game. “We play in a lot of big games, and it’s time to start winning some big games and taking our program to yet another level. And that’s kind of what you’ve got to do to do that.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Terps come back to beat Georgetown in thriller]

On a national-television stage with the college basketball world watching, Michigan State got one of those wins Tuesday night. Despite coming off the seventh Final Four appearance of the Izzo Era, the Spartans were the lowest-ranked team in the building. No. 2 Kentucky bested No. 5 Duke in the first contest of the evening. No. 4 Kansas was favored over No. 13 Michigan State.

But behind Valentine — who bulldozed his way into the Player of the Year conversation in this early stage of the season — the Spartans again looked like they could compete with and beat anybody.

“It was a big lift for everybody. I think some Kentucky fans were pulling for us tonight," Izzo said. "He lifted a lot of different people tonight, including me.”

Valentine finished with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists, joining Magic Johnson, Charlie Bell and Draymond Green as the lone Spartans to record a triple-double. Pretty good company.

Michigan State chipped Kansas’ lead down to three on multiple occasions in the second half, but the Jayhawks used a 10-2 run in the middle of the half to again stretch their lead to double figures at 61-50.

But that’s when Valentine took over. He assisted on a Bryn Forbes 3-pointer, then knocked down one of his own after a Kansas free throw. He laid one in before assisting on a Tum-Tum Nairn basket, then knocking down two free throws and another 3-pointer. That long ball gave the Spartans their first lead since the first half, putting Michigan State in front, 65-64, with less than five minutes to play.

[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern's Alex Olah proves 'beast' moniker with big first game]

After go-ahead free throws by Kansas, Michigan State freshman Matt McQuaid knocked down a triple to put the Spartans back in front.  Jayhawks forward Perry Ellis tied the game with a bucket, but Valentine answered. Wayne Selden Jr. hit a 3, but Valentine answered. Then McQuaid hit a dagger of a 3 to extend the Michigan State lead to 75-71 with less than a minute left, and Valentine and freshman Deyonta Davis hit clutch free throws to seal the game.

“The last five minutes I was ready to pass out,” Valentine said. “Credit to (assistant coach) Mike Garland, he said, ‘You’re playing too well to lose the game.’ I was like, ‘Might as well just finish it off and get the win.’ Credit to my teammates, they helped me push through.”

Valentine was sensational, but he had some help. Matt Costello was a rebound away from a double-double with 10 points and nine boards. Forbes scored 13 points, and McQuaid had nine on a trio of made 3s, two coming in the most crucial moments.

“Matt McQuaid, golly! How about him knocking those big-time 3s down?” Valentine said. “He’s somebody that impressed me this whole summer and this whole offseason, and these first two games, he shows toughness, he always makes the right play.

“Who would come in as a freshman and knock two big, gigantic 3s like that down like that? In Chicago, in the United Center, on an NBA floor. I mean, I wouldn’t have done it my freshman year. I’m just happy he did it, and he showed that we have toughness and depth.”

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Spartans gear right here]

Even though it’s just the second game of the season, a win over such a quality opponent should go down as quite the resume-builder for Michigan State’s eventual NCAA tournament push.

The Spartans are just 2-0, but what an accomplishment on a Tuesday night in November.

Of course, Izzo, the football fan he is, was already thinking about Saturday.

“All in all, what a big win for us and for our program,” he said. “Kind of a start of a big week for Michigan State if you’re a Spartan fan. Football team going down to Ohio State, and hopefully we’re leading the way for a phenomenal week for the Spartans.”

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


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


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.