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Illinois and Maniscalco Hold Off Maryland and Stoglin, 71-62

Maryland probably played their best game of the entire season. They got big points from Terrell Stoglin, big points from the post, and were at times lock-down on the defensive end.

In fact, for a few minutes there, it looked like they might just pull the upset. In the end, though, a few familiar foes - namely, free throw shooting and offensive stagnation - wrecked the Terrapins' hopes, as Illinois pulled away in the final minutes to clinch a 71-62 win, largely on the back of 24 points from Sam Maniscalco.

Maryland really did play their basketball of the season, and that progress is encouraging. They actually went into half with a 35-31 lead, and didn't give it up until the 14:00 mark of the second half. Stoglin was on fire at points and turned in a game-high 25 points. The Illini had little offense outside of Maniscalco, thanks in many ways to Maryland's defensive intensity. And, most surprisingly and most importantly, James Padgett surprised everyone with a career-high 16 points. Big points like that from the post would help out a lot as the season goes on.

In the end, though, Maryland ended up shooting 15-25 from the stripe, a 60% clip. If they shot as well as Illinois did, they probably win. It's especially painful when the guards, supposedly the best shooters on the team, leave six points at the stripe.

Likewise, Maryland seemed to tire in the second half. This surprised me a bit: believe it or not, Maryland's starting five played fewer minutes than Illinois' starting five did. Perhaps it's a cumulative thing. Regardless, the performance dipped, and it presented itself a number of ways, perhaps primarily in the aforementioned offensive stagnation. They scored only 27 points in the second half, after all, and in the final ten minutes of the game Maryland's offense basically consisted of solely Stoglin. Guys like Padgett and Sean Mosley all but disappeared: they combined for four points in the final nine minutes.

It also showed up in things like rebounding, where Illinois dominated. They finished with 34 boards to Maryland's 27, and their offensive rebounding rate was at 42%. Most damaging, though, was one final board: Maryland, down by 5, forced Maniscalco into a bad shot with the shot clock winding down. Had they gotten the rebound, it'd be a two-possession game with a minute left. Instead, the 6-0 Maniscalco outfought the 6-9 Pankey, grabbed the board, and sealed the game.

The depth issue can't be fixed right now, but it will be in January. Other things, like free throw shooting, should be reparable. Most importantly, though, it looked like there was legitimately progress made tonight from some of the earlier showings. As I've always said, that's what tonight's really all about.

A few other things did stand out, and I'll go through them quickly here. First up being: Maryland really needs someone else to step up on the perimeter. Stoglin had 25. Padgett had 16. Pankey had 7. Nick Faust, Sean Mosley, and Mychal Parker combined for 12 points on 5-19 shooting. It's just not good enough and needs to improve.

Speaking of those three: Faust is still not a point guard, and he just butchered two 3-on-1 fast breaks for Maryland, getting a single point out of both of them. I can't wait until he moves off the ball, because I still think his potential there is incredible. Thing is, he really needs to calm down: he keeps forcing things, and it doesn't help anyone. As soon as he got into even the slightest rhythm by knocking down two long two-pointers, he took every shot he could get his hands on. He's desperate to get some confidence right now, and it's hurting him.

Mosley continues to be too quiet. He drained a three and had a great slashing layup late in the game, but you almost forget he's out there at times. He has the potential to be a real weapon this year, especially because he can get his points inside the offense, if only he was looked to more. And Parker, well, he's still Parker: the light hasn't yet come on, although I'm starting to wonder if maybe he shouldn't start to transition to a Landon Milbourne-type 3/4 combo.

The two big names are Padgett and Stoglin, and both played extremely well. Stoglin was a little bit out of the rhythm of the offense at times tonight, but he was certainly feeling it and given how little else Maryland had going at times, I find it tough to fault him too much. Padgett, if this is really him and not a fluke performance, has taken leaps and bounds from where he was last year, or even at the start of this year: he's so much more self-assured and aggressive in the post. Either Mark Turgeon or major minutes has done wonders for him.

This was a big one, but I find it tough to be upset about the result in the end. This year is about building more than it is winning. That said, I do think they can grab a semi-big W against Notre Dame in the BB&T this weekend.

Still, given everything we learned tonight, there'll be more coming up.