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Maryland men’s basketball rallies to upset No. 17 Illinois, 81-65

Donta Scott’s 15 second-half points helped the Terps to victory.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

With about seven minutes to go, Maryland men’s basketball had just regained the lead over No. 17 Illinois and called a timeout. Out of the break, junior forward Donta Scott, who came off the bench in this matchup, absolutely exploded for Maryland’s offense.

It started with back-to-back layups. On the second one, as the Xfinity Center erupted into cheers, he drew a foul and capitalized on the opportunity to extend Maryland’s lead to six. Illinois responded, but Scott once again had the answer sinking another layup with about five and a half minutes to go.

Illinois tried to climb back but Scott wouldn’t allow it. In the final six minutes of the game, the Illini had just five points while the 6-foot-8 forward put up nine for the Terps as Maryland outscored Illinois 19-5 in the final seven minutes.

Sparked by Scott’s offensive push in the closing minutes, the Terps walked away from their rematch with the Illini with an 81-65 victory, marking its second conference win of the season. Scott finished the game with a career-high 25 points.

“When I got my first step on the court, my mindset was just do anything to get the win for my team,” Scott said about coming off the bench.

Senior guard Eric Ayala, who had just two points in the first 20 minutes against Michigan, scored first for the Terps in the opening seconds in what was his 100th career start. Illinois answered and the two teams continued to trade baskets.

With 17 minutes to go in the first half, the Terps were 4-for-4 from the field with a score tied at eight apiece. Ayala had the first miss of the day for Maryland and Illinois pulled in the rebound but on the other end of the court, the Illini couldn’t get done and entering the first media timeout the score was tied eight. However, although the Terps were shooting seven percent better from the field, they hadn’t scored in over two minutes.

Out of the break, Alfonso Pummer hit his second three of the day to make it a 6-0 run for the Illini but forward Donta Scott snapped the drought with a jumper to close Illinios’ lead to three.

Fatts Russell brought the game within one but an Illinois dunk made it a three-point game. On the next possession, Scott drew the foul as he sank a layup to create a three-point play and tie the game at 15 with about 14 minutes to go.

While Illinois hit five of its last seven field goals, Maryland hit all of its last three attempted ones. The Illini took the game but Ayala sank a shot from deep to take the lead. However, the Terps then struggled to find another field goal for over three minutes.

Russell snapped the drought with a quick layup and take a 22-21 lead as Illinois then struggled to find a basket for over two minutes until Plummer hit another three to regain the lead.

With six and a half minutes to go in the first half, Maryland hadn’t scored in over two and half minutes but Illinois missed four consecutive field goals and hit just one of their last eight.

About one minute later, Scott hit his first three of the day to take the lead but Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins responded with one of his own as he stole it back. On Maryland’s next two possessions, center Qudus Wahab had back-to-back dunks from offensive rebounds to give Maryland a lead.

However, at that point, neither team could break away as Illinois’ largest lead was three points and Maryland’s was four.

Out of the timeout, Wahab and another second chance bucket for the Terps extended their lead to 33-29 but once again Illinois had a response this time in the form of a three-point basket from Trent Frazier.

The two teams continued to trade baskets and turnovers but ultimately Maryland walked into the locker room at halftime with the lead, 37-35.

“Just across the board, we got contributions from everyone who played in some way, shape or fashion,” interim head coach Danny Manning said.

To open the half, Plummer hit another three. On the next possession, Wahab had a successful and-one play but once again Illinois answered, sparking a 7-0 run for the Terps. A three-point basket from Frazier followed by a jumper from him and a layup from Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk gave the Illini the 45-40 lead and caused Maryland to call a timeout.

Russell snapped the drought with a jumper but the Frazier hit the Illini’s ninth bucket from behind the arc to give them a six-point cushion with about 16 minutes to go. Guard Xavier Green went to the line after a media timeout after attempting a three and hit two of his shots from the charity stripe to make it a four-point game.

Freshman forward Julian Reese who had zero points in the first half, got the ball from Russell with about 15 minutes to go and the shot clock winding down. He hit a three to close the lead but as had been the theme all day, Illinois hit one from deep to respond.

A second chance basket from Scott followed by a fast-break layup from Russell off a steal tied the game at 51 but Illinois hit two consecutive field goals to jump back out to a four-point lead. After seemingly finding some momentum, Maryland went another four minutes without a field goal. However, Illinois also struggled, as it was scoreless for nearly four minutes.

After a series of could gave Maryland a few chances at the free-throw line, with about eight and a half minutes to go, Reese hit a three-point basket to give Maryland its first lead since opening the half as it held the 57-56 advantage. Illinois answered but less than 20 seconds later, Ayala sunk a layup in the paint to regain the lead, sparking energy into the Xfinity Center and on the Illini’s next possession, they called a timeout.

Out of the break, Scott kept the momentum going scoring seven points in about one minute. He continued to push the Terps and rallied his team to do the same.

Illinois couldn't respond to Maryland’s late-game explosive run, while the Terps secured the win with a dunk from Hart off an assist from Scott in the final seconds.

“I like the fight a lot because I feel like last game we fell real short and guys just stepped up to the plate and did the things that maybe they wasn’t doing last game... so I’m really happy and I really appreciate the guys, all of them, for just being here and stepping up to the plate,” Scott said.

Three things to know

1. Maryland performed relatively well offensively in this matchup. Coming into this matchup, the most points the Terps put up in the first half were 40 against Illinois and the next most were 38 against Rutgers. Against the Illini, Maryland scored 37 points in the first 20 minutes. The Terps shot 52% from the field hitting 15 of their 29 attempted field goals and were 2-for-5 from the field as well as a perfect 5-for-5 from the charity stripe. Scott led the way for the Terps in the opening minutes with 10 points while Russell and Wahab were close behind with eight points each. Ayala and Hart also got on the board with seven and four points, respectively. Maryland struggled to pull away in the first half but in the final minutes, closed out the game and finished with a 53% shooting clip from the field.

2. Maryland’s efficiency in the paint increased with Kofi Cockburn absent. The first time Maryland and Illinois met back in early January when center Kofi Cockburn was active for the Illini, the Terps scored 30 points in the paint. In the first frame of this second meeting, this time without Cockburn on the court, Maryland had 20 paint points while Illinois tallied just 10. The Terps took it upon themselves to get the job done in the paint early and often, and that only continued in the second half. Maryland finished with 40 points in the paint, with plenty of them coming from Scott in the second half to propel the Terps to a win.

“We knew that they had really good players and he’s a really good player as well,” Russell said. “But that team is really good that’s around Kofi. So, it’s not just about Kofi on that team, they’re really good.”

3. Maryland captures its second win over a ranked opponent this season. Maryland came into the matchup with just one win in seven Big Ten games, but it was able to pull off a much-needed upset over No. 17 Illinois, a team that the Terps lost to earlier this season. These are the kinds of wins that Maryland needs to rack up if it wants to keep its postseason hopes alive. It was just the third time all season that the Terps faced a ranked opponent with the other Big Ten matchup coming against then-No. 23 Wisconsin at home. The Terps also beat then-No. 20 Florida back in December. It’s a step in the right direction for a team that has been struggling and Maryland will likely have a few more ranked opponents on its slate later in the regular season.

“This is big for us, personally, because it just gives us confidence and it just instills that ...the season isn’t over,” Scott said. “Like as long as you still got a game ahead of you, you still always got that fight.”