Big Ten

Travel ordeal, practice uniforms and all, Michigan scorches Illini in Big Ten Tournament

Travel ordeal, practice uniforms and all, Michigan scorches Illini in Big Ten Tournament

WASHINGTON — Michigan was grounded Wednesday when the team plane slid off the runway and kept the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.

But by Thursday afternoon, Michigan was flying high.

D.J. Wilson's soaring alley-oop slam and subsequent leaping celebration at midcourt showed the Wolverines weren't at all affected, basketball-wise, by their travel ordeal the day before, when high winds forced an aborted takeoff, a scary slide off the runway and extensive damage to the plane. The team arrived in Washington just a few hours before Thursday's game, the start of which was delayed 20 minutes so Michigan would have the full allotted time to warm up.

But it was Illinois that played like it was the team just a few hours removed from a days-long quest to reach the nation's capital, blown out by Michigan in a 75-55 decision at the Big Ten Tournament.

The Wolverines obliterated the Illini defense to the tune of 75 points on 53.6-percent shooting. Michigan scored 16 points off 14 Illinois turnovers and held a 12-0 edge in fast-break points.

Meanwhile, the Illini's brightest star was practically absent, Malcolm Hill scoring just four points on 1-for-8 shooting. Tracy Abrams, though, playing in one of his final collegiate games, had a career day with 23 points.

Michigan was amped for the start of this one, practice jerseys and all, and decimated the Illinois defense with red-hot shooting, shooting 59.3 percent over the opening 20 minutes. The shots kept falling as the Wolverines hit five first-half 3-pointers and capitalized on nine first-half Illini turnovers for 12 points.

But Illinois made its own energetic charge late in the half, sparked by Abrams, who rattled off 10 straight points to cut Michigan's game-high 20-point lead in half. Though Abrams left the game immediately after, picking up his second foul, the Illini run stretched to 15-2 and chopped the gap down to seven before a breakaway slam and a 3-pointer from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman rebuilt a double-digit lead and halted the momentum. The Illini trailed by 11 at the half.

Abrams seemed to pick up where he left off to start the second half, knocking down a 3 for the period's first basket, but Michigan had its lead extended back to 14 a little more than four minutes out of halftime and led by as many as 18 before the period's midway point. Despite Michigan cooling off from the field in the second half and Abrams continuing to pile up points, the margin stayed at double figures. Illinois got it within 10 in the game's final minutes, but Derrick Walton Jr. hit a couple big shots to keep the Michigan lead comfortable.

Zak Irvin polished off a fast break with a dunk, and Wilson hit a 3, giving Michigan another 20-point lead in the game's final minute.

The first-game exit for the Illini figures to dash any remaining NCAA tournament hopes once and for all. Surprisingly, Illinois reached the NCAA tournament bubble with a late-season win streak and even more surprisingly remained on that bubble despite a loss at Rutgers in the regular-season finale.

Additionally, with a now expected fourth straight season without an NCAA tournament invite, John Groce's job status will be an intense talking point. His seat is at hot as it gets.

What a feel-good story Michigan's win is, meanwhile, what with all the Wolverines had to endure in the 24 hours leading up to the game. Advancing to play top-seeded Purdue on Friday, one wonders if Michigan will keep the practice-uniform look and its good mojo.

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.