With over seven minutes to go in the second half and the game starting to get away from Maryland, Illinois lofted up a shot that hit the front of the rim. The fighting Illini star big man Kofi Cockburn grabbed the ball off the rim, took one power dribble, elevated and hammered it home over Maryland center Qudus Wahab.
A common occurrence throughout the second half, Cockburn dominated the Terps inside and finished with 23 points and 18 rebounds. Maryland had no answer for the All-American as it fell to Illinois, 76-64, on the road on Thursday night.
“Kofi is one of the most dominant bigs in the country and when he's able to carve out space like he did today, he’s a tough cover,” interim head coach Danny Manning said.
Maryland’s recent run of success against the Fighting Illini — including beating them seven of the last eight matchups and four straight on the road — came to an end Thursday night as Illinois rushed out to an early 13-2 lead thanks to strong rebounding and efficient shooting, finding a way to outscore Maryland 46-30 in the second half en route to the victory.
Heading into the matchup, Manning’s group knew the inside challenge Illinois poised with one of the best centers in the conference, and country, in Cockburn. However, awareness alone didn't do Maryland much good as Cockburn was active and dominant against the Terps in the first few minutes.
Maryland slowly started to climb back after its early deficit, but Illinois had an answer for everything the Terps threw their way. The Terps seriously struggled to rebound the basketball, giving Illinois extra possessions to extend its lead. Through the first nine minutes of action, Illinois outrebounded Maryland 17-4, including 7-0 on the offensive glass.
“We have to do a much better job rebounding the basketball,” Manning said. “We gave up far too many offensive rebounds.”
It wasn't just the defensive glass that led to Maryland's poor showing. The Terps failed to consistently find the bottom of the net in the early part of the evening. Maryland just made two of its first 10 field goal attempts.
Illinois fed its star center on the low block and Cockburn went to work against Maryland big Qudus Wahab, who picked up two fouls within the first 10 minutes which saw his minutes reduced. Backup big man Julian Reese played 12 minutes in the first half, compared to Wahab’s four.
However, Cockburn also picked up two fouls within the first 10 minutes which forced him to take a seat on the bench. The Terps went on a 6-0 run after Cockburn left the floor which cut their deficit to eight.
Maryland continued to find its stride with Cockburn on the bench and it was the Terps leading scorer and senior leader in Eric Ayala that provided the spark. Ayala’s aggressive takes kept Maryland afloat, including a tough and-one drive that made it a five-point game for his eighth point of the day.
The Terps’ balanced scoring attack continued against Illinois as they chipped away at a large deficit, something this group has become used to this season. Donta Scott stepped into a three and nailed it for his first of the game with under five minutes to go to leave Maryland trailing by just four.
Maryland took advantage of Cockburn’s absence, driving to the lane and finding ways to score in the paint without the 7-footer’s presence. Scott took it upon himself once again, spinning in the lane and finishing with a reverse layup to cut Illinois’ lead to three.
Once again, it was Scott who drilled a three to give Maryland its first lead of the game with two minutes to go in the half. Maryland erased a 12-point deficit and made nine of its last 14 field goals to lead 34-30 at halftime. Illinois shot just 3-for-15 from three through the first 20 minutes.
Within the first few minutes of the second half, Wahab picked up his third foul while defending Cockburn, forcing Reese back into the game again. With Cockburn back on the floor, Illinois was much more formidable on both ends of the floor.
The Big Ten foes traded baskets back and forth through the first few minutes of the second half, with Maryland maintaining a slight advantage through the first five minutes. However, an Illinois 6-0 run capped off with a driving and-one layup that gave Wahab his fourth foul of the day gave Illinois the lead back with under 12 minutes to go.
The Fighting Illini’s momentum didn't stop with the 6-0 run. Illinois guard Trent Frazier hit back-to-back threes out of the timeout to extend Illinois’ lead to seven and make it a 12-0 run for Illinois.
Maryland halted the run with a driving Hakim Hart layup with the whistle that sent him to the free throw line to complete the three-point play and cut the Terps deficit to four. However, on the ensuing possession, it was Frazier again that knocked down another three pointer from the top of the key to extend his team's lead to seven.
From there, Illinois maintained a steady advantage and continued to build on its lead on the back of Cockburn who had 16 second-half points.
The Terps' foul trouble issues didn't go away in the second half as both Wahab and Reese fouled out of the game.
“Through this road swing that we’ve been on, we’ve shown we can compete, now we’ve got to do a much better job of finishing,” Manning said.
Maryland moved to 0-3 in Big Ten play for the first time since it joined the conference. The Terps will play No. 23 Wisconsin on Sunday at home.
Three things to know
1. Maryland looked like a completely different team when Cockburn was on the floor. The Terps knew they had a daunting task going against the large presence that is Kofi Cockburn. Illinois got out to an early lead with him on the floor and led by as many as 12. However, Cockburn picked up two early fouls that sent him to the bench for most of the first half. He only played eight minutes in the first half and did not play once in the final 10 minutes of the half. This allowed Maryland to attack the basket and hampered Illinois’ ability to dominate on the glass. Maryland came all the way back to take the lead into halftime. However, with Cockburn playing most of the second half, the Terps looked like a completely different team, which led to them giving up their lead in the eventual loss. Illinois was +27 with Cockburn on the floor and -16 with him off the floor.
“It made a big difference [when Kofi was on the floor],” Scott said. “He’s a big guy down there. I knew Kofi since I was in high school, he’s always been like that so it’s always been a challenge and he made a big difference when he was on the court.
2. Rebounding and foul trouble was an issue, particularly with Cockburn on the floor. Maryland was dominated on the glass all night, which posed a serious problem for the Terps. The Terps made up some ground in the rebounding battle when Cockburn was on the bench, but when he was on the floor, Maryland struggled to control the glass. Illinois out-rebounded Maryland 45-27 and had six more points in the paint than the Terps. Cockburn’s dominance also forced his defenders to pick up an influx of fouls. Both Wahab and Reese dealt with foul trouble all night and eventually fouled out in the second half.
3. It was Donta Scott’s best game of the season, at least in the first half. After some early season struggled, Donta Scott had finally been coming into his own. Scott was averaging just over 11 points on the season coming into the Illinois game, but often forced shots and wasn't efficient. However, against Illinois, particularly in the first half, Scott looked like the player everyone expected to see coming into the season and was fantastic. He was knocking down threes, exploding to the rim and leaping for monster dunks. At halftime, Scott had 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting. The second half did not show as much promise as Scott scored just two points in the final 20 minutes. If Scott’s first half can be replicated on a consistent basis, Maryland will be better off.
“I thought Donta gave us some really good energy tonight in the first half,” Manning said.