Maryland men’s basketball dropped to 8-6 on the season with a loss against Illinois.
Coming into this matchup, the Terps had won seven of the last eight matchups and four consecutive times in Champaign, Illinois however, this time, Maryland could not quite seal the deal.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
For the second consecutive game, Maryland started slow, had the lead at halftime but could not close out the game.
Illinois jumped out to an early lead and for a team that has struggled to build momentum early on, that spelled trouble. Against Iowa, they had the lead at the half but ended up not keeping the momentum going ultimately dropping that matchup.
After guard Eric Ayala hit a three at the 18:24 minute mark, the Terps were not able to find any points in over two minutes as a result of an 8-0 run the Illini went on early on.
Fatts Russell snapped that drought to bring the game to 13-4 however, into the first media timeout, the Terps had not scored a field goal in nearly three minutes. Maryland did not find that shot from the field until forward Donta Scott sank a jumper with about 14 and a half minutes remaining in the first half.
About a minute later, a steal from freshman forward Julian Reese eventually led to Scott attacking the rim, drawing the foul from Kofi Cockburn and going 1-for-1 from the free-throw line to make it a 15-7 game. At that point, Cockburn had two fouls and came out of the game.
About halfway through the first half, the Terps found themselves in a familiar situation — down by a significant amount, scoreless for over two minutes and having made just one of their last seven attempted shots from the field.
With about eight and a half minutes to go, Maryland started to heat up. All of a sudden, momentum shifted and the Terps were on a 6-0 run.
After Illinois continued to keep its distance, the Terps began chipping away at the lead and with four and half minutes, they were down by just four points. The Illini drew the foul and grew the lead to five but the Terps had heated up. With just a few minutes remaining in the half, the Terps had landed three consecutive field goals.
With two and half minutes to go, Maryland grabbed the rebound, the Terps moved the ball around the arc and Scott sank a shot from three-point range to put the Terps up by two. And despite being down big early on, the Terps had the 34-30 lead at halftime.
However, the Illini had two plays early in the second half to make it a one-point game. Both teams had the hot hand and with less than 16 minutes to go, both teams hit their last three attempted field goals and the game was tied at 42 apiece.
“Every game that we’ve play in this league so far, we’ve shown those flashes,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “We just had to have longer sustained periods of those flashes throughout the course of the ballgame.”
Maryland pulled ahead 47-42 but a missed basket by the Terps turned into an and-one opportunity for Illinois to steal the lead and extend a 6-0 run. Back-to-back threes quickly made it a 12-0 run and this is where Maryland started to slip as it called a timeout down by seven with about 10 minutes to go.
With five and a half minutes to go, Maryland found themselves in the same situation they had against Iowa— after being up at half, it was now trying to claw its way back in front.
The storybook ending continued for Illinois who ended up clinching the victory and defeating Maryland at home for the first time since 2015.
The Terps had no answer for Kofi Cockburn, but when he was off the court, they took advantage of the opportunity.
Maryland has been unable to stop its opponent's strongest players all season long and Thursday, the only way the Terps could stop Cockburn was when he was off the court.
Against Quinnipiac in the first matchup of the season, the Terps allowed guard Matt Balanc to get 25 points. The guard is now averaging 16.2 points per game.
However, this is not just a one-time occurrence that happened in the opening game of the season.
Against George Washington, Maryland allowed Joe Bamisile to score 20 points. When the Terps played Vermont, Ben Shungu put 27 points and then George Mason’s D’Shawn Schwartz had a 24-point game.
The trend of opponents putting up 20-plus points on the Terps was stalled for a bit. But, when the Terps faced Brown, Tamenang Choh had a 25-point performance and what followed was Keegan Murray’s dominant 35-point game when Maryland played Iowa.
However, in this matchup, Maryland drew fouls early on forcing Cockburn to have to take a seat with two fouls after just eight minutes. The center was incredibly productive on the court with seven points and three points in that time but, without him, the Illini seemed to crumble and without Cockburn, Scott was able to shine.
When Cockburn picked up his second foul, Illinois had a 21-7 advantage over the Terps. The half ended with Maryland leading 34-30.
Without Cockburn’s 7-foot stature blocking shots and creating difficult opportunities for Maryland’s offense, Scott was able to take off.
The Philadelphia native had three points before Cockburn checked out in the first half, he went into the locker room leading all scorers with 15 points. He shot 6-of-7 from the field, 2-for-3 from deep and 1-for-2 from the charity stripe.
All of a sudden, Maryland went from allowing an opposing player to shine to holding all Illini to single-digit scoring in the first frame. But, that didn’t last long.
In the first minute of the second half, Cockburn got back to work with a jumper putting it right over the Terps and just continued to pull in rebound after rebound.
“[Kofi being on the floor] made a big difference,” 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.”
Freshman forward Julian Reese and center Qudus Wahab made an effort to overpower Cockburn but it could not be done as both of them fouled out.
With Maryland’s two tallest players out of the game for the final four-plus minutes, Maryland struggled to string the pieces together to climb its way back to a lead.
Scott, who had 15 points in the first 20 minutes, put up just two in the second 20 but the Terps had three other players in double-digit scoring with Ayala putting up 16 and Russell and Hakim Hart scoring 11 each. However, it was no match for Cockburn who scored 23 points and tied a career-high 18 rebound performance against the Terps.
Maryland is 0-3 in conference play for the first time since joining the Big Ten.
It’s been a rocky road for this Terps team this season.
A roster filled with new faces, departures of key players and high expectations are enough for a team to be in a transition period. However, in early December, after the Terps dropped three games in nonconference play, former head coach Mark Turgeon and the program parted ways.
For a team filled with players who came to Maryland to play for Turgeon, his departure meant refinding their footing within the program and figuring out how to adjust midseason.
Interim head coach Danny Manning played at Kansas with Turgeon and has said multiple times since joining Maryland in the offseason that he came to the program because he wanted to learn from his former teammate.
All of a sudden, a team with high preseason expectations and a talented roster filled with both veteran and rookie faces became a team trying to get back on its feet before its first Big Ten game.
Manning’s first game in the new role was against Northwestern and the players who had gone through a major change were still reeling from that and although they focused on the game while playing, were not able to pull out the win.
“It was definitely tough. Nobody really expected it. You know, Coach Turgeon has done a lot for me. A lot of the guys here, a lot of us wouldn’t be here without Coach Turge. And I mean it’s still kinda unreal to describe the emotions I felt,” Ayala said after the Northwestern loss on Dec. 5.
“It kinda felt like when we heard that we wasn’t gonna get to play in the NCAA Tournament due to COVID. It kind of had that feel to it, that shock. Still try and get through and, you know, we got to keep fighting, keep trying to win games.”
Since the Northwestern, Manning and the Terps have created more of a rhythm and picked up a few wins including an upset over then-No. 20 Florida. However, when it comes to conference play, the pieces are all on the table, but not quite fitting together.
In back-to-back games against Iowa and Illinois in the same week, Maryland started slow, pulled ahead for the half but couldn’t get the job done. The team has kept close in the Big Ten but not being able to close out the games has led to an 0-3 conference record.
We’ve shown we can compete with teams in this league,” Manning said. “You know, and like I said, we just have to continue to work get better, and finish games in a manner that will give us a chance to be successful, which is to win.”
There’s still a lot of season left and although it won’t be easy, the Terps have the opportunity to pick up some big wins along the way.
No. 23 Wisconsin is making the trip to College Park on Sunday and following that, the Terps will travel to face Northwestern for a second time this season where they have the chance to split the series with the Wildcats.
“I mean, our whole season a lot of our losses, you know, we’ve been close in the game, not just the last two games, but a lot of our games we’ve played in, we’ve been close,” Ayala said. “So just coming down to a couple of possessions that we can tighten up on offensively and defensively and you know, we just waiting to hit that stride.”