Rutgers, Iowa get wins
NEW YORK (AP) — Corey Sanders scored 23 points and last-place Rutgers won a Big Ten Tournament game for the second straight season, beating Minnesota 65-54 on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The 14th seed Scarlet Knights (14-18) play sixth-seeded Indiana on Thursday night. Rutgers upset Ohio State as the 14th seed in last year’s Big Ten tournament.
Minnesota (15-17) ended an awful season, filled with off-court issues and injuries, by losing 14 of its final 16 games. Isaiah Washington, a freshman from Harlem, led the Gophers with 18 points.
The Big Ten brought its basketball tournament to New York for the first time this season, allowing Rutgers to be the home team of sorts. Playing about 35 miles from their campus in East Brunswick, New Jersey, the Scarlet Knights did not exactly pack the house, but their fans were easily the most prominent and noisy in the Garden’s lower bowl.
Sanders made a 3 with 6:15 left in the second half to give Rutgers a 52-47 lead, and put Rutgers up by six a few minutes later with another jumper. The Scarlet Knights, the worst free-throw shooting team in the Big Ten, made 7 of 8 from the line down the stretch to seal it.
Rutgers: Coach Steve Pikiell is no stranger to conference tournament success at the Garden. The second-year coach was a point guard for Connecticut in 1990 when the Huskies won their first Big East Tournament championship here.
Minnesota: The Gophers finish what had to qualify as one of the most disappointing seasons any team in college basketball had this season. Minnesota started the season ranked 15th in the country, expected to be a Big Ten contender and coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance. At one point they were ranked 12th in the nation. Coach Richard Pitino’s fifth season turned out to be a wreck. Star senior Reggie Lynch was expelled from school for sexual assault. Amir Coffey, another double-figure scorer, missed much of the season with a shoulder injury.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights lost to Indiana in the regular season by 22.
Minnesota: The Gophers can hope for a better next season.
Iowa 96, Illinois 87
NEW YORK (AP) — The Big Ten opened a five-day run at Madison Square with Jordan Bohannon leading Iowa past Illinois 96-87 on Wednesday night in the first game of the conference tournament.
Bohannon scored 25 points and had six assists, including a bounce pass to Luka Garza for a jam with 34 seconds left to keep the Illini at bay.
The 12th-seeded Hawkeyes (14-18) got solid work inside from Tyler Cook (19 points, five rebounds) and Garza (20 and eight) to go with the accurate shooting of Bohannon. The sophomore was 5 for 7 from 3-point range. Iowa will face fifth-seeded Michigan on Thursday.
Kipper Nichols scored a career-best 31 points for 13th seed Illinois (14-18) to close out coach Brad Underwood’s first season with two wins in its final nine games.
The Big Ten planted its flag in New York five years ago when Rutgers was added along with Maryland. The conference opened up an office in Manhattan and started sending a football team to the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Bringing the conference hoops tournament to the Big Apple was another move by Commissioner Jim Delany to claim the biggest media market in the country as Big Ten territory.
The first Big Ten tournament game ever played at the “Mecca of Basketball” featured teams that were a combined 1,665 miles away from their campuses — give or take a few miles.
When the Hawkeyes and Illini tipped off at 5:30 p.m. local time there were about 3,000 fans in the lower bowl of the Garden, though it was about double by the end.
To get a reservation at the Garden — which will host the Big East next week — the Big Ten needed to tweak its regular-season schedule and take the early bird special, starting its tournament a week before most of the other power leagues will. The Big Ten will crown a champion Sunday, a week before the NCAA Tournament selections.
Illinois: The Illini have not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2013, but this will be the first season as a head coach that Underwood has not led his team to the NCAAs. He did it each of his three seasons as head coach at Stephen F. Austin and took Oklahoma State there last year, his one and only season with the Cowboys.
Iowa: Bohannon dropped in a 3 from the left wing with 5:55 left to give Iowa an 80-70 lead and the Hawkeyes were never in serious trouble from there in a game that got a little bloody. Twice play had to be stopped because a player was bleeding, the second time late in the game when Illinois’ Te’Jon Lucas cut his hand and left Garza with streaks of red on his white jersey.
Illinois: On to next season for the Illini, who have an early season trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational to look forward to.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes will try to avoid going 0-3 against Michigan this season.