Big Ten

Illini defense dominant in capping bounce-back week with win over VCU

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USA TODAY

Illini defense dominant in capping bounce-back week with win over VCU

What a difference a week makes.

Last week was a nightmare for Illinois, with a home loss to Winthrop followed by back-to-back double-digit losses to West Virginia and Florida State in Brooklyn.

But things went much differently this week, with Tuesday's win over North Carolina State paired with a Saturday victory over VCU to make for a bounce-back stretch for a team that looked lost just a handful of days ago.

Saturday's win in Miami came in convincing fashion, Illinois victorious by a 64-46 score over a team that's been to six straight NCAA tournaments.

The Illinois defense held VCU to its lowest scoring output since 2005. The Illini held the Rams to just 30.2-percent shooting and 2-for-18 shooting from 3-point range.

The Illini fell behind early in this one but countered VCU's opening success with a 19-3 run that put them ahead by eight in the closing minutes of the first half. That run featured seven points from Leron Black and five from Maloclm Hill, the start of huge games for both guys. A Hill buzzer-beater at the half gave Illinois its biggest lead of the opening 20 minutes at 10.

VCU scored 11 straight points in the early stages of the second half to chop a 12-point Illinois lead all the way down to one. Things stayed close until a 10-3 run by the Illini — featuring eight points from Jalen Coleman-Lands — stretched the Illinois edge back out to double digits, an 11-point lead with about three minutes to go. After a pair of VCU free throws, Hill knocked down a 3-pointer with two and a half minutes left to seal the game, establishing a 12-point advantage the stretched to nearly 20 by the final horn.

Black finished the game with a career-high 18 points, coming close to a double-double with eight rebounds. Hill had 16 points and filled the stat sheet with five assists, three rebounds, two steals and a block. Coleman-Lands was an unusual oh-fer from 3-point range but still scored in double figures with 12 points. Tracy Abrams was a perfect 3-for-3 from deep, accounting for all nine of his points, and had six rebounds and four assists.

Illinois sits at 6-3 on the season, two games better than it was a week ago after back-to-back wins against name opponents. Four more non-conference games are on the docket — against IUPUI, Central Michigan, BYU and Missouri — before the start of Big Ten play at the end of the month.

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

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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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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.