Big Ten

Illini can't keep momentum, follow up win at Northwestern with home loss to Penn State


Illini can't keep momentum, follow up win at Northwestern with home loss to Penn State

Illinois got its biggest win of the season earlier this week against Northwestern. It followed that big win up in less-than-ideal fashion.

Illinois couldn't keep the momentum going Saturday, falling at home to Penn State — a team that entered just one spot ahead of the Illini in the Big Ten standings — by an 83-70 score.

The defining stretch came at the end of the first half, when the Nittany Lions broke away from a 27-all tie and closed the opening 20 minutes on a 14-2 run, building a double-digit lead that lasted much of the remainder of the game.

A Maverick Morgan layup squared the score at 27 with four and a half minutes remaining, but Penn State caught fire from there, hitting six of its next eight shots including a pair of 3-pointers as Illinois turned the ball over three times and only got off three shots — just one of which went in — during that stretch. Payton Banks accounted for 10 of those 14 points, including the back-to-back 3-pointers in the half's final two minutes.

That spurt allowed the Lions to run up a double-digit advantage they grew as big as 19 in the second half, a 62-43 lead standing with fewer than nine minutes to play. That's when the Illini busted off a run of their own, scoring the next 14 points thanks in part to four Lions turnovers. Offensive contributions from Te'Jon Lucas, Morgan and Jalen Coleman-Lands shrunk the gap into the single digits, and a 3 from Tracy Abrams got the Illini within five points with about five minutes to play. But Penn State snatched the momentum back, Banks and Lamar Stevens completing back-to-back three-point plays to stretch the gap back out to 11 in a blink. Once more Illinois got within single digits, but that didn't last long and the gap was double digits for the game's final three minutes.

The Lions were red hot shooting the ball, shooting 56.9 percent on the game and a scorching 60 percent in the second half alone. Penn State was a whopping 18-for-20 from the free-throw line and beat Illinois on the boards 27-20. The Illini scored 17 points off 14 Lions turnovers but missed eight shots from the free-throw line.

Banks led the way for Penn State with a game-high 24 points, and Stevens scored 21 points. Tony Carr dropped 19 points for the Lions.

Malcolm Hill led the Illini with 14 points, with Coleman-Lands (12 points) and Lucas (11 points) also scoring in double figures.

A home loss to another one of the conference's worst teams was one of the worst possible ways to follow up that big win in Evanston. Illinois dropped to 14-12 overall and 4-9 in the Big Ten with the loss and has lost seven of its last nine games. Any NCAA tournament hopes that existed were surely crushed with this defeat, perhaps the most winnable game that remained on the schedule given the Illini's generally woeful performance away from Champaign this season.

Meanwhile, the win bumped Penn State to 14-12 overall and 6-7 in the Big Ten standings, vaulting above Ohio State and Indiana. The Lions have back-to-back victories and next play at Nebraska on Tuesday.

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.