Indiana starts fast to bury Illini, snap three-game losing streak

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USA TODAY

Indiana starts fast to bury Illini, snap three-game losing streak

They say that it's not how you start, it's how you finish. Well, Saturday in Bloomington, it was all about how Illinois and Indiana started.

The Hoosiers blitzed the Illini in the game's opening few minutes, sprinting out to a 15-0 lead and holding onto that big advantage for the majority of the remainder to grab a 96-80 win and snap a three-game losing streak.

The nightmarish start for Illinois saw it miss its first eight shots and turn the ball over a handful of times, a situation made markedly worse when star Malcolm Hill went to bench early with three fouls in the first five minutes.

Indiana kept pouring it on, too, growing that lead as large as 22 in the first half thanks to red-hot shooting. The Big Ten's top offensive team looked every bit of it, scoring 48 points in the first half and shooting 58.6 percent from the field over the first 20 minutes. Robert Johnson alone had 13 points on six made baskets. The Illini were quite the opposite, shooting just 29.2 percent in the opening period and turning the ball over seven times, which led to 15 points for the Hoosiers.

Illinois fared much better after halftime, at least on the offensive end, shooting 56.7 percent from the field over the final few minutes. The Illini, spurred by having Hill on the floor, made a few charges and whittled the Hoosiers' massive lead, which again reached 22 in the second half, down to 12 with more than 11 minutes still to play. But Indiana responded with a big James Blackmon Jr. triple, the first three of 10 straight for the Hoosiers, who again led by 22.

The Illini again chopped the big lead down, using a 13-2 burst to make it a nine-point game on Jalen Coleman-Lands' fifth 3-pointer of the game with under six minutes to play. But Illinois' shooting fell off a cliff from there, and Indiana capitalized. Thomas Bryant's 3 with about four minutes to go served as the dagger, making it a 14-point lead, but the Illini were more to blame, going more than four minutes without a basket after getting the deficit to single digits.

Defense cost Illinois in this one, as Indiana had no trouble racking up some big offensive numbers, scoring 90-plus points for the sixth time this season and shooting a stellar 59.2 percent on the afternoon. The Hoosiers ended up with 20 points off nine Illini turnovers and were tremendously efficient on offense, assisting on 22 of their 29 made baskets and hitting 13 3-pointers on the game.

Hill and Coleman-Lands each finished with 21 points for the Illini, Coleman-Lands splashing home five triples and Hill getting 11 from the free-throw line. Maverick Morgan was a point off his season-best with 18.

Blackmon had a game-high 25 points with five made 3s for Indiana, Bryant added 20, Johnson finished with 18 and OG Anunoby had 12.

Indiana's win snapped a three-game losing streak that had the Hoosiers looking anything but a contender. Indiana sits at 11-5 on the season and 1-2 in Big Ten play with a trip to Maryland coming Tuesday.

Illinois dropped to 11-5 with the loss, 1-2 in the Big Ten. Next up for John Groce's team is a home game against Michigan on Wednesday.

James Franklin and staff celebrate Penn State wrestling win in singlets

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USA TODAY

James Franklin and staff celebrate Penn State wrestling win in singlets

Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy — the man with America's finest mullet — made headlines last week when he posted a video promoting an upcoming Oklahoma State wrestling match while wearing a singlet.

Hilarious, right?

Well, as you can tell from that video, the match was against Penn State. And Penn State won.

So, to celebrate the Nittany Lions' big wrestling win, James Franklin and his staff upped the ante, donning singlets for a meeting and tweeting out this "Last Supper" style picture of it Monday morning.

You've got to love seeing football coaches and teams supporting the sports that don't get as much attention.

I'll let you be the judge if this is, as Franklin tweeted, #NotAGoodLookOnUs.

Scottie Lindsey didn't light it up vs. Rutgers, but his return is huge for Northwestern

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AP

Scottie Lindsey didn't light it up vs. Rutgers, but his return is huge for Northwestern

Scottie Lindsey didn't light up the scoreboard in his return to action, and Northwestern still struggled offensively.

But getting their leading scorer back from a four-game absence was huge for the Wildcats.

It was to be expected that Lindsey wouldn't be back at 100 percent in his first game since Jan. 29. Lindsey chipped in just six points, his second lowest scoring output of the season, and played only 24 minutes, his lowest total of the year. Head coach Chris Collins told reporters after Saturday's nail-biter of a win over Rutgers that Lindsey hadn't done anything for three weeks.

"I was proud of Scottie. It's not easy. Really, he didn't work out, he didn't do any exercise for three weeks," Collins said. "A lot of you have your workout regimens that you do, and you know how you feel when you don't do anything for three weeks. You lose conditioning, you lose shape. And so for him on a couple days' notice to find a way to get out there and give us 24 minutes — I was actually mad at myself at halftime. I looked at the box score, and I felt like I played him too long in the first half. I think he played 13 minutes. He didn't really have much left in the second half."

No, the numbers were not pretty in Saturday's game. Northwestern is cruising toward its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance, while Rutgers is spending another season at the bottom of the Big Ten standings. Yet the visiting Scarlet Knights led for much of the second half, a period during which the Cats shot just 35 percent from the field and made only seven baskets. Seven of Northwestern's nine turnovers came in the second half, and it took some heroic 3-point shooting by Gavin Skelly and Bryant McIntosh in the final minutes to prevent a third straight home loss and what would have definitely been the team's worst loss of the season.

But even with all that, the Cats have to be thrilled to have Lindsey back on the floor.

In the six games prior to Lindsey's absence — a six-game winning streak with victories over Nebraska, Rutgers, Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska again and Indiana — the Cats averaged 74.5 points per game and shot a combined 44.5 percent from the field. But in the last five games, the four without Lindsey and Saturday's win over Rutgers, Northwestern has averaged 63.8 points per game and shot a collective 39.6 percent from the field.

Obviously the quality of opponent has a lot to do with that. Three of the four games during Lindsey's absence came against the Big Ten's three best teams. But Lindsey sitting down for those three games plus the unexpected loss to Illinois made a tough stretch a whole lot tougher.

Even after Saturday's rough game against Rutgers, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic that the Cats can start putting up some points during the regular season's final two weeks.

There are only four games left on the regular-season schedule: at Illinois, at Indiana, home against Michigan and home against Purdue. Those first three opponents are among the Big Ten's worst, defensively, though Michigan has stepped things up of late. That right there ought to provide perfect opportunities for Northwestern to start scoring points again.

And there's the way McIntosh has played of late. He's finally found some consistency, which proved challenging earlier in the year. He was again great Saturday, scoring 18 points and hitting the biggest shot of the night, a go-ahead 3-pointer with under a minute to play. In his last nine games, McIntosh has scored at least 17 points in seven of those and 20 or more in five of them.

Plus, Lindsey will obviously get better. He'll get healthier and more accustomed to being back on the court. And he'll get back to the guy, Northwestern hopes, who averaged better than 15 points a game before his four-game absence.

"He's only going to get better," Collins said. "His whole thing is every day he's got to keep working, he's got to get through that soreness, he's got to get through that fatigue and get his conditioning back.

"Hopefully we can get him back to being the Scottie that we've had most of the year."