Late run carries Ohio State past Illini in United Center

Illinois Fighting Illini

After going scoreless in the previous game, Keyshawn Woods was determined to make a positive impact Wednesday night.He stepped up precisely when Ohio State needed it.Woods scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half, Kaleb Wesson added 13 and the 19th-ranked Buckeyes rallied in the second half for a 77-67 victory over Illinois.Musa Jallow had 11 points and nine rebounds as the Buckeyes (8-1) improved to 2-0 in the Big Ten.

”I know I struggled in the last game, but the season’s long,” Woods said. ”You’re going to have those up and downs, but you try not to have two in a row. That was my mentality coming into this game.”

Trent Frazier and Kipper Nichols scored 18 apiece as Illinois (2-7, 0-2) dropped its third straight.The Illini have lost 12 in a row to ranked teams. The school’s last victory against a Top 25 opponent was 68-66 over No. 20 Iowa in the second round of the 2016 Big Ten Tournament.

”I was really pleased with our first half,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. ”I thought, probably for a six-, seven- or eight-minute stretch, that was as good as we’ve looked, and the way I envision us.We were flying around, we took them out of what they wanted to do and the ball moved and we got some easy baskets.”

The second half was a different story, though. The Buckeyes shot 12 of 21 (57.1 percent) in the final 20 minutes to flip the game. The Illini went 9 for 33 (27.3 percent) after halftime.

”We did not play with great poise in the first half, and we didn’t coach with great poise in the first half,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. ”But I’m proud of our guys for responding.”

Ohio State had a 30-22 lead with just under six minutes remaining in the first half before the Illini closed with a 16-4 run for a 38-34 halftime lead.The frustration for Holtmann boiled over midway through the spurt when he picked up a technical foul for protesting a no-call at the Ohio State basket.

#5 Michigan escapes with 62-60 win over NU

Northwestern Wildcats (1981 - Pres)

EVANSTON—Jordan Poole and Michigan finally faced some adversity Tuesday night.Pushed right to the very end, they delivered.Poole made two big plays in the last 2 1/2 minutes and Ignas Brazdeikis scored 13 of his 23 points in the second half to help the fifth-ranked Wolverines hold off Northwestern for a 62-60 victory.
”I feel like a game like this brings us even more together, more chemistry, more everything,” Brazdeikis said. ”So this was really important for us.”
Michigan opened with eight straight wins by at least 17 points, including blowouts against Villanova, North Carolina and Purdue. Poole and company appeared headed for another runaway before the Wildcats challenged the Wolverines in the second half.
”I knew we were going to have to go through games like this if we were going to be good,” coach John Beilein said. ”We survived it – I don’t know how – but we made just enough good plays down the stretch.”
Poole finished with 15 points as Michigan (9-0, 2-0 Big Ten) added to its best start since it opened the 2012-13 season with 16 straight victories. Zavier Simpson scored 10 points, and Jon Teske had eight points and 10 rebounds.The game was tied at 58 when Poole fed Teske for a dunk with 2:30 left. After Ryan Taylor made a jumper for Northwestern, Poole drove inside for another dunk that made it 62-60 with 1:53 remaining.Michigan had a shot-clock violation with 14 seconds to go, giving Northwestern one last chance. Taylor was long on a desperation 3-pointer as time expired.
”We probably could’ve got a better shot,” Northwestern center Dererk Pardon said. ”It was contested. We could’ve gotten a better one, but we’re still learning and moving forward.”
Pardon led the Wildcats (6-3, 0-2) with 20 points on 9-for-10 shooting. Vic Law shook off a slow start and finished with 19.
It was Northwestern’s second straight tough loss, including 68-66 at Indiana on Saturday.

”We’ve just got to close games out down the stretch,” Law said. ”I don’t think it’s our offense that’s messing up late in games. We just have to lock in and be really sharp.”
Michigan appeared to be in control after opening the second half with a 9-0 run to make it 45-30 with 17:19 left. But Northwestern came roaring back.Pardon’s driving layup sparked a 15-2 spurt for the Wildcats. A.J. Turner’s three-point play sliced Michigan’s lead to 47-45 with 13:16 remaining, sending a charge through the crowd at Welsh-Ryan Arena and prompting the Wolverines to take a timeout.Brazdeikis helped Michigan settle down, converting a layup to make it 51-45 with 11:30 left. The freshman, who exited for a brief moment in the first half after he was elbowed in the back, went 9 for 18 from the field.It was Michigan’s first win at Northwestern since a 94-66 victory on Jan. 3, 2013. The Wolverines lead the overall series 113-59.The Wolverines had some defensive issues in the second half but helped themselves with a 33-26 rebounding advantage for the game.Northwestern: Law sparked the Wildcats in the second half, scoring 11 points.Michigan stays home for the next month, beginning Saturday against South Carolina. The Wolverines’ next road game is Jan. 10 at Illinois.NU hosts DePaul on Saturday and doesn’t play another Big Ten game until Jan. 2 at Michigan State.

Bulls dismiss Hoiberg, Boylen takes over.

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Fred Hoiberg didn’t see this coming. He arrived at the Advocate Center on Monday morning expecting to run a practice at 11 a.m. The Bulls have lost six straight games and 10 of their last 11, but Lauri Markkanen — arguably their most important player — hadn’t played a minute this season until Saturday’s 121-105 loss in Houston. Kris Dunn, their starting point guard, has appeared in one game. Bobby Portis, who looked outstanding in preseason, has been out since Oct. 24. Hoiberg expected he’d have a chance to coach a healthy roster before being sent packing. It is easy to reflexively defend coaches who lose their jobs, and I am not here to say the Bulls have made a mistake. Maybe Jim Boylen is exactly the coach they need as they try to climb up the standings over the next few years; maybe they will hire someone else who will fit better than Hoiberg. The timing, however, is confusing. Why even have Hoiberg run training camp if you don’t have the patience to let him see the frontcourt of the future — Markkanen and remarkable rookie Wendell Carter — share the floor for more than 15 minutes? Hoiberg’s exit is an unfortunate microcosm of his entire perplexing tenure, in which the Bulls never gave him the proper pieces to succeed. He arrived in 2015-16 on a five-year contract worth $25 million, and management sold him as the guy who would modernize the team after five seasons of the old-school Tom Thibodeau. In his first year, he had to deal with a dysfunctional locker room used to a completely different personality. Derrick Rose, trying to recapture his stardom, had a higher usage rate than Jimmy Butler. Management smartly moved Rose the following summer and promised fans that the Bulls would be younger and more athletic … and then signed Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade, contradicting all of that and preventing Hoiberg from running an offense based on spacing and ball movement. The ill-fated “three alphas” experiment gave way to a full-fledged rebuild, and the Bulls are still in the early stages of the post-Butler era. Hoiberg hasn’t definitively proven that he’s a high-caliber NBA coach, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he succeeded elsewhere. No reasonable person would call him the primary reason for the team’s 115-155 record since he was hired. That, obviously, is the front office. Late Sunday, the Sun-Times reported that Hoiberg would be coaching for his job. This didn’t necessarily mean the Bulls had to turn their 5-19 season around, but their young players had to show significant development. Regardless of what you think about the cards Hoiberg was dealt and the job he has done, this sounds more or less fair: If this year is about playing the young guys and building for the future, then Hoiberg’s coaching staff should be expected to make them better players by the end than they were at the beginning. It is strange to pivot like this in the middle. The weirdest part of this is that the Bulls season has actually been sort of encouraging when viewed through the lens of player development. Zach LaVine is still putting up monster numbers as he adjusts to being at the top of every opponent’s scouting report. Carter has been nothing short of a revelation. Ryan Arcidiacono and Chandler Hutchison have been bright spots, too. When the Bulls are healthy, they might actually have a pretty decent bench, as far as rebuilding teams go. Considering how badly the organization bungled the end of the Thibodeau era and how widely it was panned for the Butler trade, the Bulls, back in action on Tuesday against Indiana (6 p.m), is not in that bad a place. There are several young players with potential on the roster, and the team hasn’t traded away any future first-round picks. Even its most divisive move, signing Jabari Parker, came with no long-term risk: his salary next season is not guaranteed. It is precisely this state of affairs, however, that makes this firing feel a bit unsavory. Hoiberg inherited a talented, but flawed and divided group. He tried to manage an untenable situation involving two guards everyone ignored on the perimeter. He tolerated a tanking season, watched two power forwards fight in practice and tried to steer this year’s team as it endured endless injuries. Now, less than 48 hours after Markannen’s return showed some light at the end of the tunnel, he is out. Tough business.

Bears upset by Giants in OT.

EAST RUTHERFORD—The New York Giants finally have a signature win to carry them through the rest of the season and maybe beyond.While beating the NFC North-leading Bears wasn’t pretty and involved blowing up a 10-point lead in the final 1:13, the Giants showed character in a wild game in the rain highlighted by trick plays – and a reminder of William ”The Fridge” Perry.The Giants (4-8) won for seventh time in 28 games over the past two seasons as Aldrick Rosas kicked a 44-yard field goal in overtime in a 30-27 win Sunday, snapping the Bears’ five-game winning streak.

”The takeaway is, and I told the team this, some people are fond of talented people, some people are fond of smart people. I’m fond of tough, resilient people,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. ”When you are trying to flip culture and when you are trying to build something, you have to dig in on that. There was some toughness and resiliency when they came back to tie things up.”

Rosas’ third field goal of the game came on the opening series of overtime. It was set up by a 29-yard run by rookie Saquon Barkley, who finished with 125 yards on 24 carries.The Giants didn’t nail down the win until Janoris Jenkins knocked away a deep fourth-down pass to Taylor Gabriel after quarterback Chase Daniel fumbled on consecutive plays on the rainy afternoon to set up a fourth-and-8.The Bears (8-4) forced overtime by getting a 21-yard field goal by Cody Parkey and a 1-yard touchdown pass from halfback Tarik Cohen to Anthony Miller as time expired in the fourth quarter. The trick-play touchdown was set up by a recovered onside kick by Daniel Brown on a play Giants star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. did not dive for the loose ball. Then came a questionable pass interference call in the end zone against cornerback B.W. Webb with :03 to go.

”I’m proud of them for fighting to the end. Not every team will do that,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. ”We’ve got a bunch of high-character guys that will fight till the end and that’s a credit to them. We’ve got to figure out how to learn from this. This is part of that callus that goes on.”

Besides the Cohen pass on what appeared to be a sweep, the Giants saw Beckham throw and catch touchdowns, and Chicago nose tackle Akiem Hicks dive over on fourth down from 1 yard on a play made famous by Perry in the Bears glory days in the mid-1980s.The Giants seemed to have it wrapped up when Rosas kicked a 37-yard field goal for a 27-17 lead with 1:49 to play. But the Bears rallied behind Daniel (26 of 39 for 285 yards, a TD and two interceptions) and several mistakes by the Giants, who were called for 12 penalties for 107 yards.New York had two penalties on the tying drive, which featured a 23-yard, fourth-down pass from Daniel to Cohen to the Giants 9 with 11 seconds left in regulation.Cohen finished with 12 catches for 156 yards.Linebacker Alex Ogletree intercepted two passes, scoring on an 8-yard return on the second play from scrimmage. The Giants forced three turnovers and had a season-high five sacks against Daniel, who was starting his second game for the injured Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder).The Giants made many big plays in the second half. Beckham threw a 49-yard TD pass to Russell Shepard and caught a 1-yard, fourth-down TD from Eli Manning (19 of 35 for 170 yards and an interception) as New York opened a 24-14 lead in the third quarter.

Buckeyes overcome strong comeback effort by Cats for 45-24 winin Big Ten Title Game

2018 Big Ten Football Championship Game Logo.svgNorthwestern Wildcats (1981 - Pres)

INDIANAPOLIS—Dwayne Haskins added five more touchdown passes to his single-season record Saturday and No. 6 Ohio State relied on its staunch defense to hold off a second-half charge from No. 21 Northwestern for a 45-24 victory to claim its second straight Big Ten championship.The Buckeyes (12-1, 9-1 Big Ten, No. 6 CFP) won their third title in five years and their fifth consecutive game – but it’s unlikely to get the Buckeyes into the four-team College Football Playoff.Haskins finished 34 of 41 with 499 yards and one interception. It’s the fifth time he topped 400 yards this season.Clayton Thorson went 27 of 44 with 267 yards, one TD and two interceptions as he helped Northwestern trim a 24-7 halftime deficit to 24-21 midway through the third quarter. The Wildcats (8-5, 8-2) couldn’t get any closer, though, as they lost only their second conference contest in their last 17 league games.It still turned out to be a more intriguing game than many expected, especially after the Buckeyes’ fast start.Haskins eluded a couple of defenders on third-and-11, buying just enough time to find Terry McLaurin for a 16-yard TD pass on the game’s opening possession.Northwestern tied the score when little-used running back John Moten IV outran Ohio State’s defense for a 77-yard scoring run. It matched Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins for the second-longest run in title game history. Dobbins had a 77-yard run in last year’s title game.Then the Buckeyes answered with what appeared to be knockout flurry. Dobbins scored on a 2-yard run, Blake Haubeil made a 42-yard field goal and McLaurin caught a 42-yard TD pass from Haskins to make it 24-7 at the half.The Wildcats opened the second half with Thorson’s 18-yard scoring run and made it 24-21 when he found Cameron Green on a 2-yard TD pass with 8:03 left in the third quarter.After Haskins connected with Chris Olave for a 29-yard TD pass, Charlie Kuhbander made a 21-yard field goal to get the Wildcats within 31-24 with 10:34 to go.But Haskins sealed it with two more TD passes – a 9-yarder to Johnnie Dixon and a 17-yarder to Olave.The ascending Wildcats showed some grit after an abysmal start, which could have buried them. Instead, they fought their way back into contention and gave themselves a shot. Now they’ll wait to find out when and where they’ll get another chance to shine under the bright lights.The Buckeyes played like one of the nation’s top teams in a dominant first half and when they were in closeout mode late. In between, they put on a mystifying performance. Eventually, Haskins closed out the win that will likely send them to the Rose Bowl.Moten had four carries for 76 yards and Isaiah Bowser wound up with 13 carries for 60 yards. … Thorson made his 52nd career start, a Big Ten record. … Fred Wyatt blocked an Ohio State field goal.The Buckeyes forced (three) turnovers. … Dixon had seven catches for 129 yards, Parris Campbell had seven catches for 89 yards, Olave finished with five for 79 and McLaurin had three receptions for 78 yards. … Dobbins ran 17 times for 68 yards and became the first player in school history to record 1,000-yard rushing seasons as both a freshman and sophomore. He also caught four passes for 50 yards and one TD.NU, the Big Ten runner-ups will wait to find out who and where they play.Ohio State: The Buckeyes are hoping the selection committee gives them a shot in the playoff, knowing their more likely destination may be the Rose Bowl.se to hold off a second-half charge from No. 21 Northwestern for a 45-24 victory to claim its second straight Big Ten championship.The Buckeyes (12-1, 9-1 Big Ten, No. 6 CFP) won their third title in five years and their fifth consecutive game – but it’s unlikely to get the Buckeyes into the four-team College Football Playoff.Haskins finished 34 of 41 with 499 yards and one interception. It’s the fifth time he topped 400 yards this season.Clayton Thorson went 27 of 44 with 267 yards, one TD and two interceptions as he helped Northwestern trim a 24-7 halftime deficit to 24-21 midway through the third quarter. The Wildcats (8-5, 8-2) couldn’t get any closer, though, as they lost only their second conference contest in their last 17 league games.It still turned out to be a more intriguing game than many expected, especially after the Buckeyes’ fast start.Haskins eluded a couple of defenders on third-and-11, buying just enough time to find Terry McLaurin for a 16-yard TD pass on the game’s opening possession.Northwestern tied the score when little-used running back John Moten IV outran Ohio State’s defense for a 77-yard scoring run. It matched Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins for the second-longest run in title game history. Dobbins had a 77-yard run in last year’s title game.Then the Buckeyes answered with what appeared to be knockout flurry. Dobbins scored on a 2-yard run, Blake Haubeil made a 42-yard field goal and McLaurin caught a 42-yard TD pass from Haskins to make it 24-7 at the half.The Wildcats opened the second half with Thorson’s 18-yard scoring run and made it 24-21 when he found Cameron Green on a 2-yard TD pass with 8:03 left in the third quarter.After Haskins connected with Chris Olave for a 29-yard TD pass, Charlie Kuhbander made a 21-yard field goal to get the Wildcats within 31-24 with 10:34 to go.But Haskins sealed it with two more TD passes – a 9-yarder to Johnnie Dixon and a 17-yarder to Olave.The ascending Wildcats showed some grit after an abysmal start, which could have buried them. Instead, they fought their way back into contention and gave themselves a shot. Now they’ll wait to find out when and where they’ll get another chance to shine under the bright lights.The Buckeyes played like one of the nation’s top teams in a dominant first half and when they were in closeout mode late. In between, they put on a mystifying performance. Eventually, Haskins closed out the win that will likely send them to the Rose Bowl.Moten had four carries for 76 yards and Isaiah Bowser wound up with 13 carries for 60 yards. …

NOTES—Thorson made his 52nd career start, a Big Ten record. … Fred Wyatt blocked an Ohio State field goal.The Buckeyes forced (three) turnovers. … Dixon had seven catches for 129 yards, Parris Campbell had seven catches for 89 yards, Olave finished with five for 79 and McLaurin had three receptions for 78 yards. … Dobbins ran 17 times for 68 yards and became the first player in school history to record 1,000-yard rushing seasons as both a freshman and sophomore. He also caught four passes for 50 yards and one TD….NU, the Big Ten runner-up, will wait to find out who and where they play…The Buckeyes are hoping the selection committee gives them a shot in the playoff, knowing their more likely destination may be the Rose Bowl.

Cats take big lead, then get by Jackets 67-61

Northwestern Wildcats (1981 - Pres)Related image

EVANSTON—Ryan Taylor had 20 points, Vic Law added 14 and nine rebounds and Northwestern survived a second-half offensive drought to hang on for a 67-61 victory over Georgia Tech Wednesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.Dererk Pardon had 12 points and 10 rebounds as Northwestern (6-1) won its third straight.The Wildcats had a 28-point lead with 16 minutes remaining before the offense suddenly went cold.Jose Alvarado had 24 points for Georgia Tech (4-2).Georgia Tech won the meeting between the teams last season, 52-51, in Atlanta.Northwestern quickly established control of the game on the defensive end. Georgia Tech managed just 20 first-half points on 6-for-24 (25 percent) shooting.Law led the way for the Wildcats with 10 first-half points, while Taylor and Anthony Gaines added eight points apiece.Gaines hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make it 40-20 at halftime, NU’s biggest lead to that point.The Wildcats were 13 of 27 (48 percent) from the field in the first half.Northwestern opened the second half with a 10-2 run for a 50-22 lead, but Georgia Tech responded with a 13-2 run to pull within 52-35.The Yellow Jackets picked up their defensive pressure and quickly got the Wildcats out of rhythm offensively.The lead was down to 57-47 with 7 1/2 minutes to play. Georgia Tech kept chipping away, but couldn’t score consistently enough to make a serious push at winning the game. The closest the Yellow Jackets got was 66-61 on an Alvarado 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds to go.Despite playing three games in four days in the Wooden Classic over the weekend in California, the Wildcats had plenty of energy, particularly on the defense end. Coach Chris Collins has said repeatedly that this team’s success will be determined on the defensive end. It certainly was Wednesday.

Bucks get by Bulls in close one.

Chicago Bulls Logo - Red bull with script above head

MILWAUKEE—Giannis Antetokounmpo had 36 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, and Khris Middleton made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left to lift the Milwaukee Bucks over the Bulls 116-113 on Wednesday night.Antetokounmpo and the Bucks (15-6) won an entertaining duel with former teammate Jabari Parker, who put up 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists in his latest return to Milwaukee. Parker signed with the Bulls last offseason after spending his first four NBA seasons with the Bucks.Malcolm Brogdon smartly passed the ball back to a wide-open Middleton at the top of the 3-point arc to set up the winning shot. Justin Holiday missed a 3 that would have tied it in the final seconds.Antetokounmpo also had a crucial block of Parker’s shot with the score tied at 111 in the last minute, and the star forward then sank two free throws with 36 seconds left before the Bulls’ Zach LaVine tied the score with a reverse layup.Brogdon had 24 points, five rebounds and six assists, and Middleton added 17 points, six rebounds and four assists.Rookie guard Ryan Arcidiacano continued his stellar play in the last week with 22 points, five rebounds and four assists, but the Bulls (5-17) dropped their fourth straight game and eighth in the past nine.Antetokounmpo posted his fourth 30-point game in the last five, after scoring just 20 points in the Bucks’ loss at Charlotte on Monday.The Bulls again scored 40 points in the first quarter, equaling their total in the opening quarter on Nov. 16 in the first meeting between the teams this season.Parker had 10 points in the quarter and the Bulls shot 66.7 percent from the floor (12 of 18) to take a 40-30 lead.Antetokounmpo sparked a Bucks rally in the second and finished the half with 20 points, five rebounds and four assists. Milwaukee took its first lead at 50-48 on a layup by Ersan Ilyasova, and the teams traded the lead several times before Antetokounmpo’s drive gave the Bucks a 63-62 edge at halftime.Milwaukee outscored the Bulls 33-22 in the second period.A 3-pointer by Brook Lopez gave the Bucks a 77-72 lead with 7:40 left in the third quarter and prompted a Bulls timeout.Arcidiacono sank a pair of 3s as the Bulls regained the lead at 82-80 before the Bucks responded with dunks by Antetokounmpo and Pat Connaughton sandwiched around a free throw by Middleton.The Bucks led 92-89 entering the final quarter.

ND holds off Illini in ACC-Big Ten Challenge

Illinois Fighting IlliniRelated image

SOUTH BEND—Notre Dame guards TJ Gibbs and D.J. Harvey scored 19 points each, and Durham sparked his team with all of his 10 points and five blocked shots in the second half, as ND held off the late-charging Fighting Illini in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup.Trent Frazier’s 24-foot, solid-look 3-point try for Illinois narrowly rimmed out just before time expired.Durham, who sat out last season after transferring from Connecticut, registered a career high for points. Harvey’s total was also a career high and Gibbs’ a season high.The Irish (6-1) won their fourth straight while Illinois (2-5) lost for the fifth time in six games.Durham was 3 of 4 from the field and 4 of 8 at the line.The Irish led 65-52 with 6:30 to go before the Illini mounted their rally that came up just short.Aaron Jordan led Illinois with 23 points. Freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili added 22. Those were career highs for both players.After a tight first half that yielded nine lead changes and a 35-34 Illini lead at the break, Notre Dame appeared like it might win in a runaway when it outscored Illinois 17-2 over a span of just under eight minutes.That produced a 61-49 Irish lead with 6:48 remaining.The Illini, though, battled right back behind Bezhanishvili and Jordan, who each scored 13 second-half points.

Cats coast to 24-16 win over Illini to keep Land of Lincoln Trophy.

Northwestern Wildcats (1981 - Pres)Illinois Fighting Illini

EVANSTON—With nothing really to play for, and with the Big Ten championship game looming next weekend, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald decided to pull many of his starters in the second half Saturday against rival Illinois.Fitzgerald stuck with the plan in spite of unexpected tense moments down the stretch.Clayton Thorson accounted for three touchdowns, Isaiah Browser rushed for 166 yards on 18 carries and No. 20 Northwestern beat Illinois 24-16 for its seventh straight Big Ten win.Thorson completed 12 of 18 passes for 110 yards and two TDs. He also ran for a score, and Bowser posted his fourth 100-yard game of the season.Neither was on the field as the game tightened late.

”You should have heard the headphones,” Fitzgerald said of the communication with coordinators Mick McCall and Mike Hankwitz. ”`Hey, I want …’ No. `Hey, can I have …’ No. `But what about …’ No.

”Sorry, I apologize to Mick and Hank. But to win our rivalry game with the amount of guys we had out – and what I didn’t allow our coordinators to do – was awesome by our guys.”

The Wildcats (8-4, 8-1, No. 19 in CFP) will face No. 10 Ohio State in the championship game in Indianapolis.

”We’ve got an unbelievable opportunity in front of us,” Fitzgerald said. ”I’m fired up to take the Purple to Indy. That’s our goal every year, to win the Big Ten West. We’ve finally gotten over that hump, and now we have an opportunity, a 60-minute opportunity, to take this team to the Rose Bowl.”

Illinois (4-8, 2-7) lost for the sixth time in seven games. AJ Bush Jr. completed 23 of 39 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown, and Ricky Smalling finished with seven receptions for 72 yards and a TD.

”Our guys fought hard from start to finish,” Illini coach Lovie Smith said. ”We left a lot of plays out there would like to have over, but the guys competed.We know we need to improve on a lot of things. But I like the way the guys came to work each day.”

Northwestern retained the Land of Lincoln Trophy with its fourth straight win in the series, tying its longest winning streak.

”Beating our rival every year has been awesome,” said Thorson, who started all four games.

With Illinois driving for a potential tying score, linebacker Paddy Fisher intercepted a Bush pass at the Northwestern 8-yard line with 3:34 remaining. The Wildcats, with TJ Green at quarterback and backups at running back, then ran out the clock.The Illini have dropped 23 straight and 32 of 33 against teams ranked in the AP poll since beating No. 1 Ohio State in 2007.Illinois moved the ball effectively – particularly through the air – in the first half, but only managed a pair of Chase McLaughlin field goals.NU was leading 7-6 when it scored on its final two possessions of the first half.Thorson capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard sneak. The Wildcats got the ball back with 1:47 left, and Thorson found Riley Lees for a 5-yard TD pass.Jake Collins added a 25-yard field goal on the opening drive of the second half to make it 24-6.Although the West Division title was clinched two weeks ago at Iowa, Thorson said the last two games were far from meaningless. ”We never wanted to let off the gas,” he said. ”We never wanted to back into the Big Ten championship game.”
Fitzgerald was asked if there was a chance Thorson might re-enter the game if Illinois had tied it. ”One hundred percent, no,” he said. ”One million percent, no. Infinity, no.”The Illini are one of the youngest teams in college football, and they played like it. They had explosive plays throughout, but had to mostly settle for field goals because of mistakes at the wrong time. Smalling is elusive and routinely broke free in the secondary. But he struggled to catch the ball and had nearly as many drops as receptions.Despite saying they wouldn’t overlook Illinois because it was a rivalry game, the Wildcats clearly didn’t have the same fire as in previous weeks. Bowser was shut down in the third quarter and Thorson was replaced by Green early in the fourth.

”I felt like we could win with the personnel we had in the game,” Fitzgerald said.

Illinois hosts Akron in the 2019 season opener on Aug. 31. The Wildcats have dropped six straight against Ohio State and have beaten the Buckeyes just once since 1972.

Irish get by USC to finish regular season 12-0

LOS ANGELES—Notre Dame’s offensive skill players gathered on the sideline and looked up at an unfamiliar sight on the scoreboard. The Fighting Irish hadn’t faced a double-digit deficit at any point in their perfect season before Southern California jumped to a 10-0 lead Saturday night.With their national championship dreams suddenly in a wee bit of trouble, running back Dexter Williams spoke up.

”Somebody has got to make a play!” Williams shouted.

Ian Book and Chris Finke did just that on Notre Dame’s next drive, and Williams did it himself right after halftime.By the time the Irish were done making plays at the Coliseum, they were well on the way to the College Football Playoff with the Jeweled Shillelagh firmly in hand.Book passed for 352 yards, Williams went 52 yards on a go-ahead touchdown run and No. 3 Notre Dame completed an unbeaten regular season and likely secured a playoff spot with a 24-17 over longtime rival USC.

”It brings tears to your eyes,” Notre Dame cornerback Julian Love said. ”So much is put into this, and it was very tough at times. It just feels so good to get here. Nothing has been handed to us. USC was struggling this year, but they weren’t just going to hand it to us. We had to go out there and seize it.”

Finke made an exceptional TD catch for the first score by the Fighting Irish (12-0, No. 3 CFP), who showed playoff-level tenacity in rallying from their largest deficit of the season. Tony Jones Jr. then took a short pass 51 yards for a touchdown with 3:09 to play to finish off Notre Dame’s 10th perfect regular season since 1945, the first since 2012.

”It’s something I dreamed about, so to have it really be like that, it’s a surreal moment,” said Book, the Californian who improved to 9-0 as Notre Dame’s starter, including 8-0 this year. ”This whole team, we’re just so fortunate to be here. USC, they played great. We knew they had a great defense, and to be able to finish the season off undefeated in a rivalry game, you can’t ask for anything better than that.”

Williams rushed for 97 yards as the Irish overcame a slow start in the 90th edition in this famed intersectional rivalry. Notre Dame didn’t score until Finke’s TD catch shortly before halftime, but the Irish ran off 24 consecutive points and shut out USC in the second half until Tyler Vaughns’ TD catch with 48 seconds to play.ND is all but certain to be chosen for the four-team playoff, and this win could keep the Irish away from powerhouse Alabama in the first postseason game. The Irish celebrated with ferocity in the Coliseum locker room, with their shouts echoing through the old walls into the USC room.

”It’s just such an emotional high,” Irish linebacker Drue Tranquill said. ”We were just dancing in there. I can’t really dance, but I was trying.”

J.T. Daniels passed for 349 yards for the Trojans (5-7), who will stay home for the bowl season after their first losing season since 2000. Vaughns caught 12 passes for 120 yards in what might have been the final game for coach Clay Helton, who is under pressure after the Trojans lost five of their final six games in a dismaying collapse.USC athletic director Lynn Swann didn’t make an immediate announcement on Helton’s future.

”The best is yet to be, I truly believe that,” Helton said. ”I watched the men that are out there, both old and young, and see guys that are truly talented individuals that will develop into a quality football team that can win championships. I know that and I believe that in them.”

After USC won eight straight over Notre Dame in the 2000s, the Irish have won six of the last nine meetings in this classic college football matchup. Notre Dame is the first road team to win in the series since 2012, when the Irish also completed an unbeaten regular season with a victory at the Coliseum.Only four USC teams have finished with losing records since 1961, but this clearly talented group gave a tough game to the powerhouse Irish. The Trojans’ 289 yards in the first half were 64 more than the Irish had allowed before halftime all season, and Notre Dame had only trailed twice at any point all season.Although Jones’ late rumble to the end zone clinched the expected result for Notre Dame, the Trojans were competitive with an elite opponent despite the roiling subplot of their coach’s future.USC’s 10-7 halftime lead could have been much larger, but receivers Michael Pittman Jr. and Amon-Ra St. Brown both fumbled after catches in Notre Dame territory. The Irish offense didn’t score until 2:20 before halftime on that 24-yard throw to Finke, who hadn’t caught a TD pass since the season opener against Michigan.