Maryland basketball went through an absolute roller coaster to pick up its first Big Ten win of 2017-18 on Sunday night, outlasting Illinois 92-91 in overtime.
Anthony Cowan drew a foul with 0.6 seconds remaining in the extra period, then sank the clinching free throw before missing the second and letting time run out. It was a wild finish that never should have been one.
The Terps entered the game having dropped three of four contests, all by fewer than five points. Despite leading by as many as 22 in the second half, this one turned into a nail-biter as well. Illinois didn’t hold a lead until the final two minutes, and seemed certain to win in the waning seconds. But a Bruno Fernando tip-in forced overtime, and Maryland was on top at the end of a hectic extra period.
Cowan led the way with 27 points, and while he only had two in the second half, the Maryland point guard responded with nine in overtime. Fellow sophomores Justin Jackson and Kevin Huerter added 20 and 17, respectively.
Turnovers almost single-handedly killed Maryland, who committed a season-high 25, all in regulation. It didn’t help that a hot shooting start turned into a cold second half that featured multiple extended offensive droughts. But somehow, the Terps were able to come away with a win.
Maryland came out quickly, a departure from recent games. The Terps jumped out to a 10-0 lead four minutes in, forcing five turnovers in the process. Illinois subbed out all five of its starters following the first media timeout and went on a 9-3 run, but Maryland remained in front. After the teams traded buckets for a while, the Terps blew the game open with a 17-2 run. They entered halftime leading 45-26, with the margin reaching as high as 21 points.
Cowan dominated the first half, tallying 16 points and making six of his first seven shots, including three triples. Maryland shot a freakish 73 percent in the opening period and held Illinois to 32 percent.
In the second half, though, both teams looked completely different. Illinois ramped up the intensity on both ends, and Maryland’s turnover struggles continued. The Illini made the first run of the half, whittling Maryland’s lead down from 22 to 11 with just over 12 minutes left. Two long threes by Aaron Jordan cut it to six at the 9:38 mark. The Terps clung to the lead until Illinois tied it at 69-69 with just over four minutes to play.
Darryl Morsell and Jackson each made go-ahead layups, but Mark Alstork’s three with 1:51 to play gave the Illini their first lead of the night at 74-73. That score held until the final seconds, when Illinois split a pair of foul shots to gain a two-point lead. Cowan couldn’t get his shot up on the ensuing play, but Illinois then heaved an inbounds pass out of bounds. That gave Maryland one more chance, and Huerter’s missed three was corralled and tipped in by Fernando.
Illinois and Maryland traded baskets for most of overtime. No team ever led by more than one possession. Huerter’s corner three with 35.5 seconds remaining gave the Terps a 91-89 lead. Alstork tied it with a layup, and this would have seen a second overtime had Cowan not been hacked on the final shot. The Terps didn’t get a stop in overtime and still won.
Maryland won’t play another Big Ten game until Jan. 2 against Penn State. Instead, the Terps await a five-game stretch of home contests against mid-majors and below. That run starts with Ohio on Thursday night.
Three things to know
1. The turnover bug is still around. Maryland only had seven giveaways in Friday’s loss to Purdue after averaging 20 per game in its previous three contests. But the Terps only needed 10 minutes to reach eight turnovers and finished with 25. This helped give Illinois life when there was otherwise almost none, and almost cost Maryland the game entirely.
2. Justin Jackson came alive at a good time. The sophomore forward entered Sunday averaging 8.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, then tossed up a season-high 20 points against the Illini. He had 10 points in the second half and a key jumper late in overtime. If he heats up, the ceiling for this team is a little higher.
3. It’s a split of the early conference games. Every team in the Big Ten was slated for two contests this weekend (some squads play their second games Monday), and after falling to Purdue on Friday, the Terps desperately wanted to avoid an 0-2 start that they couldn’t bring up for a month. Instead, they’ll enter the new year 1-1. It only took overtime and roughly 25 million heart attacks to get there.