Big Ten

Illini put fight, resiliency on display in triple-overtime win


Illini put fight, resiliency on display in triple-overtime win

You can say what you want about the Illini this season, but it's a fact that they've been dealt an awfully tough hand. And what's also true is that despite the misfortune they've had to endure this season, they're not giving up, not rolling over, not cratering to the bottom of the Big Ten. They're fighting, competing in almost each and every game — just three of their seven conference losses have come by more than 10 points.

Illinois played 55 minutes of basketball Wednesday night in New Jersey and showed a heck of a lot of fight in pulling out a 110-101 triple-overtime win over Rutgers.

"I think for me, the thing I took from it was our resiliency," head coach John Groce said after the game.

Now, sure, there's the obvious notion of why the Illini needed three overtimes to beat what is probably the consensus worst team in the league. But remember what has transformed Illinois into its current state. Pretty much the entire season, the Illini have been without three projected starters, including their two starting big men in Mike Thorne and Leron Black and their starting senior point guard in Tracy Abrams. On top of that, Illinois was without Michael Finke on Wednesday.

Nine guys. That's how many people played and how many people Groce had at his disposal.

[MORE BIG TEN: Report: Illini wrapping up interviews with seven candidates for AD job]

Fortunately, they all came to play, especially when challenged by a Rutgers team that put Illinois down by as many as 12 in the first half. But the Illini didn't stop fighting. They battled back.

Malcolm Hill had 32 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, going 17-for-20 from the free-throw line, including 10 straight makes from the stripe in overtime. Jalen Coleman-Lands had a career-high 26 points, including six makes from 3-point range. Maverick Morgan had a career-high 20 points and went 10-for-13 from the field. Kendrick Nunn had his second career double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Khalid Lewis had nine points and eight assists with just one turnover in 46 minutes of action.

“I think the thing that stands out for me is that all nine guys that played did something glaringly positive to help the game," Groce said. "Whether it’s (Jaylon) Tate making both of his free throws. Whether it’s Alex Austin going 2-for-2, being in during key defensive stops. Whether it’s Maverick Morgan going 10-for-13 from the field, being efficient. Whether it’s Hill and Nunn combing for 25 rebounds. Whether it’s Khalid Lewis 8-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

“I thought (D.J.) Williams and (Aaron) Jordan’s minutes — they played 24 minutes today and didn’t have a turnover. That’s huge for freshmen on the road. Williams was 3-for-5 in addition to that and I thought really had a good look in his eyes and practiced well leading up to the game. And then obviously J-Cole, 6-for-14 from 3. A lot of them were big shots and in the guts of the game. He’s a big-time shot maker, and we needed every single one of them.

"I’m happy for our guys, I’m proud of our guys, and we beat a team that fought us tooth and nail."

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So should Wednesday night's game really have gotten as far as it did? Maybe not. The Illini are depleted almost beyond belief, but it was still the bottom-feeding Scarlet Knights.

But pushing the competition to game's end is a trait the Illini can be proud of. They were down by double digits early on. They didn't stop battling.

It's become a trend, too. Illinois has gone past regulation in three of its last four games, getting an overtime win at Minnesota, falling at home in OT to Ohio State and beating Rutgers in three extra periods. It's the first time the Illini have played three or more overtime games in a single season in eight years.

This might not go down as a very positive season for the Illini, with a lot of that being due to injuries the team couldn't control. But there's pride to be had, and they can take pride in how they're competing.

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.