The start to the season was underwhelming. It was utterly disappointing. The life seemed to be sucked out of Maryland men’s basketball.
But the Terps put that negativity to bed Sunday — for a few days at least — when it shocked No. 10 Illinois, 76-67. Jahmir Young and Julian Reese catalyzed an unbelievably efficient performance, combining for 48 points.
The win marked Maryland’s first ranked victory of the season, and one that might just change the course of the season.
“Definitely a good sign to see us win on the road,” Reese said, “Beating the No. 10 team in the country is definitely a good sign for us.”
A large reason why Maryland entered Sunday’s game with just one road conference win dating back to last season was because of its tendency to struggle out of the gates. Early on against Illinois, it looked like the Terps were destined for another humiliating defeat away from home.
Led by three quick triples from Luke Goode, the Illini bolted out to a 20-11 advantage. Maryland attempted seven 3-pointers in the opening 10 minutes, making just one, while Illinois made four of its first six attempts.
A rare sight this season, though, head coach Kevin Willard’s squad settled in, and started to execute efficiently on the offensive end. Sets were properly run, Young and Reese worked through pick-and-roll action, and the Terps began to go toe-to-toe against the No. 10 ranked team in the nation.
“Our whole thing was ‘Let’s get it inside to [Reese] early, let’s try to wear out Coleman Hawkins’,” Willard said.
The Terps scored 26 points in the final 11 minutes of the half, even going ahead at one point. Young and Reese combined for 23 of Maryland’s 37 first-half points, and Reese added seven boards and three takeaways.
Despite finding itself down by two after 20 minutes, the Terps entered the locker room on the heels of maybe its most impressive first-half performance of the season, and took that momentum into the final 20 minutes.
After attempting 12 3-pointers in the first half, Maryland came out of the gates with a determination to get downhill, with 18 of its first 21 points of the second half coming in the paint. Young and Reese again dictated the game on both ends of the floor, helping Maryland get out to a six-point lead before an Illinois timeout with just over eight minutes remaining.
The Illini scored just 14 points in the first 13 minutes of the second half, with seven of those coming from the line. Maryland went to the free-throw line just twice before the final minutes of the game.
Despite that disparity, Maryland dominated inside all game long, scoring 52 paint points to Illinois’ 26. The Terps shot 50 percent from the field in the second half while holding the Illini to a 22.5 percent clip.
“Really proud of the defensive effort in the second half, thought that was phenomenal,” Willard added.
Down the stretch, looking to close out a signature victory, it was the freshman, DeShawn Harris-Smith, who came up clutch. He was 0-of-4 from three, but his fifth found the bottom of the net, giving the Terps a seven-point advantage which they wouldn’t relinquish. He later forced Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins, the Illini’s top interior player, into a fifth foul to send him out of the game.
Three things to know
1. A season-altering victory? A top-10 victory on the road is a massive accomplishment for any team, but for Maryland, which has struggled to do much of anything impressive this season, taking down the Illini on the road seems even more important.
Sunday’s win marked just the second road conference victory in the Willard era.
2. Reese and Young were outstanding. Maryland’s dynamic duo was sensational Sunday, with each player showing why they earned preseason all-conference selections. Young finished with 28 points, eight assists and two takeaways, while Reese had 20 points and 11 rebounds.
3. The offense found its rhythm. When Maryland was at its best last year, Young and Reese worked two-man action to perfection, opening up the rest of the offense. It took 17 games, but the Terps got back to that against the Illini, making 26-of-48 two-point field goals. They committed just seven turnovers while assisting on 14 shots.