Michigan and 5 Teams with Statement Wins on Thursday Night
Perhaps the most important Thursday night game tipped off in Minnesota, where the Golden Gophers hosted Michigan.
And though Minnesota made a push in the second half, Michigan won handily. The 2.5-point underdogs picked up a key road win in their first action since falling to Ohio State.
But a few other teams had statement wins on Thursday night as well. Here's a look at them.
Valparaiso over Detroit
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Down 20 in the second half at Detroit, Valparaiso caught fire and stole an important early-season Horizon League game. The Crusaders trailed the entire game before taking their first lead on Ryan Broekhoff's game-winning free throws with 17 seconds left.
Anytime you win after trailing by 20 on the road, you make a statement—that your players refuse to quit and compete until the final buzzer. But when you do so against a league foe to win a game with conference tournament seeding implications, you make a HUGE statement.
Valpo, 4-1, is set to host first-place Wright State on Saturday.
Northwestern over Illinois
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Perhaps this should be noted as a statement loss for Illinois rather than a statement win for Northwestern, as the Fighting Illini have completely fallen apart—with their domination of Ohio State standing as an exception.
But the Wildcats deserve some recognition for their dominant performance on the road. Northwestern led 36-21 at the break and didn't let Illinois within 11 the rest of the way.
Northwestern shot 8-of-15 from deep while Illinois hit just 3-of-20.
South Dakota State over Western Illinois
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With the way North Dakota State has played to date, South Dakota State could ill-afford a third conference loss this early in the year. Western Illinois, on the other hand, would have kept pace with the Bison atop the Summit standings with a win over SDSU.
But Nate Wolters torched the conference's second-most efficient defense for 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, adding six assists, five rebounds and three steals, to lead South Dakota State to a 59-53 road victory and keep the Jackrabbits in the thick of the race to the top of the Summit—sure, pun intended.
IUPUI is the only obstacle between them and a rematch with the undefeated Bison.
Belmont over Eastern Kentucky
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New league, same domination.
Belmont went 16-2—19-2 if you include the conference tournament—in the Atlantic Sun last year, and after Thursday's 83-76 victory over Eastern Kentucky, the Bruins stand at 5-0 in the Ohio Valley.
The Colonels may not be as good as their 14-4 record (4-1 in league play), but they, along with Murray State, should be Belmont's biggest challenge for the OVC title.
Eastern Kentucky shot a ridiculous 36 threes, making just 12, while Belmont also held a 34-17 rebounding advantage. The trio of Ian Clark, Kerron Johnson and Blake Jenkins combined for 58 points.
Michigan over Minnesota
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Ohio State exposed Michigan on Saturday, with Aaron Craft frustrating Trey Burke into his second-least efficient outing this year. Loss No. 1 precluded the Wolverines from attaining No. 1 status nationally.
Minnesota, on the other hand, fell just a few buckets shy of completing the most notable comeback of 2012-13, losing to Indiana.
Both teams looked to avoid a losing streak, and Michigan prevailed 83-75 to improve to 4-1 in Big Ten play.
Burke shot just 5-of-15 but scored 18 points, and his nine assists helped Michigan shoot 54.9 percent from the floor. Though the Golden Gophers cut into the Wolverines' double-digit second half lead, this one was never really in doubt after the break.