Tracy Abrams lost each of the last two seasons before they even got started, his would-be senior year wiped out with preseason injuries. Healthy for the 2016-17 campaign, though, Abrams is making the most of his senior season, now that it's finally arrived.
Saturday, the Illinois point guard exploded for a career-high 31 points, going 7-for-8 from behind the 3-point line as the Illini cruised to a 92-73 win over visiting Central Michigan in Champaign.
It was also a career day for forward Leron Black, who scored 21 points in the victory.
The Illini burst away from a 16-15 deficit with 17 straight points — eight from Abrams and six from Maverick Morgan — to build a huge 16-point edge midway through the first half. That lead hit 19 before Central Michigan rattled off 13 straight points to chop it down to six, but Illinois had a double-digit edge at halftime and opened the second half on a 22-6 run to reach its biggest lead of the game at 26 points. Abrams and Malcolm Hill each accounted for five points during that 22-6 spurt. It was a waltz to the finish line from there.
Illinois was hot shooting the ball, hitting on 53.1 percent of their shots from the floor. Abrams and Black were the stars, going 10-for-12 and 9-for-13, respectively. The Illini held a big rebounding advantage, 49-25, and scored 34 points in the paint, statistical positives that helped atone for the 15 turnovers, which led to 20 Central Michigan points.
Abrams' 31 led the way, and Black was next with his 21. Morgan finished with 11 points. Hill had 10. And Mike Thorne Jr. was a basket away from a double-double with eight points and 11 rebounds.
The win sent Illinois to 8-3 on the season and extended its winning streak to four. It was the second-highest scoring output of the year for the Illini, who have two non-conference games remaining against BYU and Missouri before the beginning of Big Ten play.
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 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.