Following Maryland's win over Minnesota Saturday, Mark Turgeon spoke about how he believed his team still hadn't played their best basketball this season, saying "...we need to play more of a complete game while remaining consistent." Several times this season, the Terps have had stretches of inconsistent play, but for the most part have been able to get to the line and overcome many of those struggles. But on Tuesday, that inconsistency, especially on offense, came back to bite the Terps, who were unable to overcome it.
Maryland opened up a six-point lead in the first half, but went through multiple stretches where they were held scoreless. By intermission, their lead was down to just a two-point advantage. As has been the case for the last several games, Maryland struggled to get to the free throw line in the first half, attempting just six attempts from the charity stripe.
As the second half began, Maryland just seemed out of sync, unable to master or attack Illinois' zone defense, and settling for one shot each time down the court. Meanwhile, Illinois was seemingly scoring on every possession, riding the hot hand of Malcom Hill, who finished the game with 28 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists.
"We had no one to match up with Hill," Turgeon said following the game. "I challenged my guys at halftime to guard him, and obviously that didn't happen."
Instead, Hill scored 12 points during the Illini's 20-3 run to start the second half. Maryland scored just once during the first nine and a half minutes of the half, a three-pointer by Jake Layman. During that stretch, Maryland missed nine of the 10 shots they attempted, all three of their free throw attempts, committed three turnovers, and picked up three fouls. It was arguably one of their worst stretches of basketball this season. Unfortunately, it came during a time when Illinois was seemingly unable to miss from the field, converting on seven of their nine shot attempts during that stretch, while also going three of four from the free throw line.
Maryland eventually began to score again, but was never able to put a run together before time ran out. They made just nine of their 25 shot attempts from the field in the second half, four of which came within the final 1:13 of the game. While they made it a little interesting at the end, Illinois was able to close it out at the free throw line, where they were 17-20 for the game.
So what happened Tuesday?
Maryland struggled getting to the line and making free throws
Maryland not only struggled shooting the ball, but also had a difficult time drawing contact and getting to the free throw line. And when they were able to get there, the Terps, who are a 74% free throw shooting team, made just 10 of their 18 attempts, including misses on the front end of several 1 and 1 attempts. Maryland also averages 25.3 free throw attempts per game, meaning they were at the charity stripe 28% less than normal. That's significant for a Maryland team that generates 25.6% of its offense from free throws (per KenPom).
The Terps offense has struggled so far in B1G play
Everyone knew that conference play was going to be a totally different animal for Maryland. The Big Ten has a reputation for playing a brand of basketball that focuses on lots of physical play and grind it out games. So far, it appears that Maryland is experiencing that first hand. During non-conference play, Maryland was shooting 47% from the field as a team. In their first three B1G games, their shooting percentage has dropped to just 37%, probably because of the physicality of the league, but also because the Terps are now consistently facing better competition than they did in non-conference play.
In their first two games, they were able to overcome that by getting to the line and making free throws. When they were unable to do that Tuesday, it cost them dearly. Maryland needs to continue to work their offense so they can get the ball inside and draw contact. They can't fall into a trap where they rely too much on outside shooting, especially when it results in just one shot attempt on a possession.
How will Maryland respond?
After losing their first game of the season to Virginia, Maryland responded with a seven game winning streak. Can the Terps rebound in a similar way this time around? We'll find out Saturday when they head to Purdue to take on the Boilermakers. Hopefully the Terps will be able to refocus on effectively running their offense, attacking the basket, and getting to the free throw line. Picking up a road win Saturday will be important for Maryland, who returns from this two game road trip to face Rutgers on the 14th, before they host Michigan State a week from Saturday.