Monday marked Martin Luther King Jr day and while the day was filled with some great games, we must first pay tribute to Dr. King’s legacy. His commitment to equal rights for all people regardless of skin color is part of what has led to the world we live in today. On his day, we got a terrific double-header of games that took place, with a Big Ten heavyweight battle and Notre Dame going on the road to take on Howard. Let’s dive into the reactions to those games.
Notre Dame holds off Howard in historic matchup
This was a game two years in the making as Mike Brey and Notre Dame went on the road to take on Kenny Blakeney’s Howard Bison. This marked the first time Howard has ever gone on the road to play an HBCU. This was a game the two were determined to play on MLK Day, as the original game was canceled a season ago. Gus Johnson, a Howard alum was originally scheduled to be on the call, but unfortunately missed the game due to Covid protocols.
The game exceeded expectations, Howard hung around and made it a game, which was something not everyone expected. The Bison trailed 67-56 before Blakeney’s Bison put on a full-court press, which resulted in 10 straight points, but ultimately the Bison were unable to get the stop needed to win the game. Howard may have lost, but this is a good performance for the Bison, as well as more people leaning towards going to HBCU schools, this could help with recruiting within the league and allow the Bison and programs like it to be more competitive with high-major programs. Overall this was just a really good game to be played, credit goes to everyone involved for getting this game played.
Purdue gets signature road win at Illinois
In what was one of the games of the season thus far, Purdue went on the road to take on Illinois in a showdown of the Big Ten’s best. It was a matchup that would be fascinating to see which team would dominate on the interior, as the duo of Zach Edey and Trevion Williams would go up against Kofi Cockburn. The game not only lived up to but exceeded all the hype as we got 50 minutes of high-level basketball, in which Purdue came out on top.
The first half was all about Zach Edey, the 7’5 big man was unguardable. Kofi Cockburn, who is known for overpowering opponents, had major issues going against Edey because Cockburn’s strength and size was simply outmatched in this game. That’s not to say Cockburn now isn’t a First-Team All-American (he still is), but it goes to show how tough that matchup was for Illinois. Even still, the Illini were up 24-21 before Purdue went on a big 16-2 run to close the half and take the lead.
The second half saw Cockburn get in foul trouble, which seemed to be a dagger for the game, but it ended up not being one. André Curbelo got some major run in the second half, as he made his return after suffering a concussion. Belo was awesome, he made so many timely shots and his speed and quickness paired with Frazier and Plummer really helped key the Illini’s second-half comeback. The Illini tied the game at 49, but it was Sasha Stefanovic who made a couple of big threes to keep Illinois at bay, but Illinois rallied from behind and André Curbelo drilled a game-tying jumper to force overtime.
Overtime one read regulation in a sense that Purdue got out to a solid start, but it was a broken play, caused by Purdue triple-teaming Curbelo that led to a backdoor cut and the overtime forcing shot by Alfonso Plummer. Stefanovic stepped up in overtime making the early shots to give Purdue the lead and unlike the previous two times, Illinois seemingly ran out of gas and wasn’t able to respond, as Purdue held on for the 96-88 double-overtime win.
For Purdue, this win will certainly help them not only get back in the Big Ten title race but the one seed race as well. With a loss, Purdue would have fallen three games back of Illinois in the loss column for the Big Ten title and that might have been a hole too steep to climb out of. The two will meet again in February in a game that should be a classic like this one was and that result could dramatically steer the Big Ten title race. For Illinois, this is another very tough loss, the Illini look Top-10/ Top-15 good when watching them, but they just haven’t been able to capture that elite-level victory. They will have opportunities to get that signature win, but until they do, they still will fly under the radar.