Big Ten

Rutgers gets first-ever Big Ten Tournament win as Ohio State's season bottoms out

Rutgers gets first-ever Big Ten Tournament win as Ohio State's season bottoms out

WASHINGTON — When those coaches were saying that anyone can beat anyone in this year's Big Ten Tournament, they weren't lying.

Rutgers, the worst team in the conference, record-wise, all season long, captured its first-ever Big Ten Tournament win Wednesday night, knocking off Ohio State by a 66-57 score at the Verizon Center.

The Scarlet Knights advanced to take on the sixth-seeded Northwestern Wildcats on Thursday night.

Ohio State can blame itself for a crushing defeat and a brutal end to its season. The Buckeyes shot a miserable 23.8 percent from the field in the second half, but they were really done in by horrendous free-throw shooting. Ohio State was 15-for-28 from the charity stripe.

Rutgers, meanwhile, dominated on the glass. The Knights had a 47-31 rebounding edge, with 19 of those offensive rebounds turning into 22 second-chance points.

Nigel Johnson scored 21 points off the bench for Rutgers, helping give the Knights a 32-8 edge in bench points.

The Buckeyes had a great first half shooting the ball, hitting at a 54.2-percent clip. But the Knights trailed by just three at the half, thanks in large part to their 12-2 edge in second-chance points. Rutgers' bench also outscored Ohio State's reserves by a 17-0 margin over the opening 20 minutes, with Johnson contributing 10 of those points for the Knights.

Rutgers punched Ohio State in the mouth to open the second half, going on a 10-1 run to grab a lead on Ohio State, which mustered just four points in the first six and a half minutes of the half, all on free throws with no made shots. Marc Loving's 3-pointer ended that stretch, but the Buckeyes continued to shoot poorly throughout the second half while the Knights kept cleaning up their own misses, dominating the offensive glass and turning that into points.

The Knights matched grabbed a six-point lead with under six minutes to play, but the Buckeyes chipped away, keeping things tight. Johnson knocked down a big 3-pointer with about two minutes remaining to turn a razor-thin two-point margin into a five-point gap. That proved the game's biggest bucket, as the Buckeyes couldn't get any closer than four the rest of the way.

Rutgers actually shot pretty poor from the field, just 37.1 percent on the night. But those big stat advantages elsewhere coupled with Ohio State's atrocious free-throw shooting helped the Scarlet Knights grab the biggest win of the young Steve Pikiell Era.

What a win it was for Pikiell. In his first Big Ten Tournament, he led the Knights to a win over Thad Matta's Buckeyes. Matta, who received a vote of confidence earlier in the day from his athletics director, entered with the best-ever winning percentage in the Big Ten Tournament.

Rutgers will take on Northwestern on Thursday night. The Knights lost twice to the Wildcats earlier this season but only by a combined 13 points.

Ohio State's season bottomed out with a 17-15 record, the worst during Matta's tenure in Columbus. This is the first group of Matta Buckeyes to fail to reach 20 wins in a season.

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Northwestern and Illinois’ college football programs are ranked in the top 10 this year.

Kind of.

One esteemed name in the college football ranks has placed Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald atop the list of the all-time greatest college coaches…ranked as players. Illini coach Lovie Smith ranks at No. 10.

Rich Cirminiello, Director of College Awards for the Maxwell Football Club, compiled the list and he is an excellent follow on Twitter. He has several other noteworthy lists of interest, including the top college football players who are now coaches in the NFL. Psst…spoiler alert: several local connections are on that particular list as well, including Saints head coach Sean Payton (QB, Eastern Illinois) and Ron Rivera (LB, California).

But back to Coach Fitz, who bleeds purple and has emphatically put the NU football program on the map since the mid-90s. He was a two-time All-American in addition to receiving consecutive Bronco Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors as a linebacker (1995-96). He helped guide the Wildcats to the ’96 Rose Bowl. Since becoming the team’s head coach in 2006, he has led the program to nine bowl games (four wins).

We all know Lovie Smith’s coaching legacy with the Bears and his rebuilding of the Illinois football program, but did you know how much he dominated as a college player? He played for Tulsa from 1976-79, racking up 367 career tackles primarily as a safety. He was a three-time All-Missouri Valley Conference award winner and earned a second-team All-America mention in 1978. He was also named MVC Newcomer of the Year after he tallied 90 tackles as a freshman.

[MORE: Lovie Smith, Mike Tirico discuss systemic racism 

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who passed for over 11,000 yards in seven seasons as a Chicago Bear, ranked No. 2 on Cirminiello’s list. In a follow-up tweet, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, who dominated as a wide receiver at NIU and at nearby Kaneland High School, came in at No. 20. Western Michigan’s Tim Lester —a star player at Wheaton Warrenville South HS— is in at No. 7.

Who said that the Land of Lincoln didn’t have top college football talent?

Northwestern Wildcats athletic department begins phased return to campus

Northwestern Wildcats athletic department begins phased return to campus

Professional, collegiate and prep sports have been on hold in Illinois since mid-March but it looks like there may be more light at the end of the tunnel. This time, in Evanston.

Northwestern University announced Thursday that a phased reopening of the athletic department, in tandem with NU’s overall policy for a return to campus, will include student athlete workouts on Monday June 22.

The relaunch of athletics at Northwestern during the COVID-19 pandemic comes as the state of Illinois is progressing in its own planned reopening, as dictated by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The sports medicine staff, athletic trainers and student-athletes with post-injury needs were welcomed back earlier this month and other select groups will be admitted back to campus next week.

Athletes will be required to complete a full physical upon arrival in Evanston on June 22. They will be screened before entering on-site facilities by means of a wellness check and a no-touch temperature scan.

Facility access will be managed through one entrance and exit. Locker facilities and lounges will remain closed, though, along with dining centers.

[MORE: Shortened NFL preseason puts big group of players at a disadvantage]

The Wildcats football team, along with both the men’s and women’s basketball programs, are penciled in to begin those voluntary workouts a week from Monday. Each unit should have plenty of motivation once they hit the playing surface.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald and company are eager to put last year’s 3-9 mark behind them. On the hardwood, Chris Collins’ group needs a quick bounce-back after an 8-23 mark last season while the women’s team, under the tutelage of Big Ten Coach of the Year Joe McKeown, are looking to build off a stellar 2019-20 campaign. They won the their first conference championship since 1989-90 and boasted a school record 26 wins.


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