Big Ten

Illini collapse, suffer embarrassing overtime loss to Winthrop


Illini collapse, suffer embarrassing overtime loss to Winthrop

Illinois is trying to snap a three-year NCAA tournament drought. And while a November loss to Winthrop probably won't be the determining factor in whether the Illini reach the Big Dance in March 2017, a November loss to Winthrop looks pretty ugly right now.

The Illini suffered an embarrassing home defeat at the hands of the visiting Winthrop Eagles on Monday night, falling 84-80 in a game that should never have reached overtime.

Illinois blew a 10-point lead with three and a half minutes to play in regulation, turning the ball over three times in the final three minutes of the second half as Winthrop closed regulation on a 10-0 run. In the extra period, a couple missed free throws buried the Illini, who couldn't erase a four-point deficit.

Things looked promising for the home team early on, with the Illini jumping out to a quick 14-2 lead, but that was sliced right down thanks to a 12-1 run by the Eagles. Illinois faced its first deficit, a slight one, around the five-minute mark of the first half and had a small four-point lead at the break.

Winthrop kept things close, but Illinois managed a pair of double-digit leads in the second half, the first coming with about 12 minutes to play, the second coming with three and a half minutes to go. That's when it all fell apart, the Eagles surging with the final 10 points of the second half to force overtime. The Illini missed three shots and turned the ball over three times in regulation's final three minutes, while the Eagles hit a pair of 3-pointers and another couple baskets, the game-tying shot coming from behind the arc with 28 seconds left.

The teams traded baskets to open overtime before Winthrop got back-to-back buckets, the second courtesy another Illinois turnover, to build a lead that was never relinquished. Michael Finke missed a pair of 3-point shots in the extra period, and Leron Black came up empty on two free-throw attempts in the final minute that would've sliced it to a two-point game.

The Eagles shot 50 percent from the field on the night, with the Illini shooting 44.1 percent. And the teams turned the ball over a whopping 22 times apiece. But Illinois' most glaring deficiency was at the free-throw line, where it was just 9-for-16, compared to the 14-for-17 performance at the stripe by Winthrop. The visitors also got a stunning 54 points from their bench, compared to just 18 from the Illini reserves. Keon Johnson was the bulk of that bench scoring for the Eagles. He had a phenomenal evening with 38 points on 15 made baskets, including four 3-pointers, to go along with six rebounds and three assists.

Illinois had four players score in double figures, but most of them required an awful lot of shots to get there. Finke led the way with 18 points, going 7-for-14 from the field and 2-for-7 from 3-point range. Tracy Abrams scored 17 points, filling the stat sheet with six assists and five rebounds. Malcolm Hill had 14 points on 4-for-17 shooting and 4-for-7 shooting from 3-point range, also grabbing nine rebounds. And Black had 10 points off the bench in his first action of the season, also hauling in four rebounds.

This was the Illini's first loss in five games. Next up is a trip to Brooklyn for a Thanksgiving date with West Virginia.

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.