Maryland basketball looked impressive in its Big Ten opener against Illinois Tuesday night, winning 84-59 at Xfinity Center.
The Terps had several worrisome performances against subpar nonconference opponents, but they completely flipped that script, riding an excellent start to a blowout win.
Tight defense and efficient scoring combined with woeful Illinois shooting kept the Terps comfortably ahead. As has been customary, Melo Trimble led the Terps in points with 20. Justin Jackson, Jaylen Brantley and Anthony Cowan supported him with 12 each. Cowan ran the offense as well as he has this season, finishing with six assists.
The Terps were without their two tallest players in Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky, but they got off to a great start anyway. Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon went small without them, and it worked.
Ivan Bender played effective defense and finished around the rim, which is all Mark Turgeon needs him to do. L.G. Gill had an awakening of sorts. The Terps’ graduate transfer has had a tough time finding a role on this team, but he looked excellent running the pick-and-roll with Cowan.
Illinois leading scorer Malcolm Hill was efficient (21 points on 6-for-10 shooting), but the Terps limited his team to 36 percent shooting from the field. Maryland had a negligible advantage in turnovers, but an aggressive-enough defense helped keep Illinois flat.
The Terps didn’t let up in the second half, extending the lead to 29 points before the Illini narrowed it slightly. Illinois might look back on this as one of its worst games of the season, but Maryland will likely look back on it as one of its best.
Maryland’s 13-1, and fans have reason to be excited for the Terps’ New Year’s Day matchup with Nebraska.
Three things to know
- Maryland started conference play in style. Down a couple of big men and facing one of the best teams they’ve played so far (which, yes, isn’t a huge compliment), the Terps did a lot of things well. This was unexpected and very encouraging.
- No big men, no problem. Cekovsky and Dodd were key pieces of Maryland’s rotation when they were healthy — though that wasn’t often. The team spaced the floor more with both of them out, and it’ll be interesting to see if this continues when they return.
- A balanced scoring attack. The Terps ended up with four players in double figures, which is both a callback to last year’s balanced team and a knock on an Illinois team that didn’t look as good as expected.