Big Ten

Illini keep making things interesting, beat Michigan State to keep NCAA tournament hopes alive

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AP

Illini keep making things interesting, beat Michigan State to keep NCAA tournament hopes alive

Illinois is making things really interesting.

The Illini seem to have waited until the last possible moment to make a late-season run that could end with them in the NCAA tournament. And those postseason hopes are still alive, as hard as that might seem to believe, after John Groce's team reeled off its fourth straight win on Wednesday night in Champaign, winning the biggest of the two games remaining on its regular-season schedule by beating the visiting Michigan State Spartans by a 73-70 score.

Illinois had a lead as big as 11 midway through the second half but watched Michigan State mount a furious rally, wiping that margin almost all the way clean. The Spartans had the gap down to four on multiple occasions, none more dramatic than when Miles Bridges splashed home a 3-pointer with under five minutes to play. Kenny Goins again brought the deficit to just four with a basket with under two minutes to play, and in the game's final minute another Bridges 3 chopped the lead to just one, at 71-70.

Maverick Morgan played hero from there, grabbing a massive offensive rebound on the ensuing possession. Malcolm Hill split a pair of free throws, and after Bridges missed a game-tying shot attempt, Kipper Nichols also split a pair of free throws. Michigan State, down three with three seconds left, couldn't pull off the type of improbable full-court heroics Northwestern did earlier in the night in a win over Michigan, allowing Illinois to grab a landmark win in its quest to keep its postseason hopes alive.

Hill finished with a game-high 22 points, one better than Bridges' 21-point output. Leron Black had 15 for Illinois, and Morgan ended with 14 points. Alvin Ellis III scored 15 for Michigan State, and Nick Ward finished with 11.

The prospect of the Illini snapping their three-year NCAA tournament drought seemed laughable not too long ago. But Illinois is now on a four-game win streak with wins in five of its last six games. What was a 3-8 conference record is now an 8-9 conference record, and the Illini have a strong chance of finishing the season .500 in the league with their final regular-season game coming against Rutgers, the conference's worst team.

The NCAA tournament resume isn't glistening. But this late-season surge features a pair of wins over Northwestern, plus this victory over Michigan State, two teams that seemd destined for the Big Dance. The Illini also have wins this season against Michigan, VCU and North Carolina State. In a season where the bubble is being described nationwide as weak, it's enough to get Illinois into the conversation. And even that is a shocker considering where this team was just a few weeks ago.

But the play has improved dramatically in recent games. Just once since the end of January has a team scored more than 70 points against the Illinois defense.

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.