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Three takeaways from No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball’s 75-66 win over No. 20 Illinois

Here’s what we noticed from the statement victory from the Terps.

Maryland v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball went to Champaign, Illinois, Friday night and took down No. 20 Illinois, 75-66.

The Terps’ erased a 14-point deficit to pick up arguably their biggest win of the season and now are in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.

Here’s what we took away from Maryland’s sixth consecutive win.

1. Anthony Cowan Jr. kept his team in this one

Maryland has had a habit this season of getting off to slow starts — though it has sort of dispersed in recent contests.

But Friday night, the Terps seemed out of sorts, turning the ball over six times before Illinois did so once and not having much rhythm offensively.

Senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. did not back down, though. With the game tied at four apiece near the 17:30 mark, the senior guard acted like he was going to go up and get a handoff from Darryl Morsell. Instead, Cowan cut back door, allowing the junior from Baltimore to find him for the and-one finish.

Cowan’s bucket was the Terps’ last points for about 2:30 as they missed three consecutive shots.

With just under 15 minutes to play, Aaron Wiggins drove to the middle of the lane and kicked it out to Cowan, who had a defender running towards him with a hand up. The senior guard rose up and nailed the shot with no hesitation.

Nearly 2:30 later, Cowan found himself at the top of the key with the shot clock winding down. He took one jab step towards his defender and launched the three-point attempt over Illinois’ Da’Monte Williams, capping off his seven-straight points for the Terps.

“Sometimes we laugh, you know if he hits a shot and it’s like ‘There you go,’” guard Eric Ayala said. “We expect it. ... It’s just Anthony being Anthony. I think he’s one of the best guards in the country.”

Maryland didn’t start to erase Illinois’ 14-point lead until the 8:35 mark, but Cowan — who has at times this season been reserved in a scoring role until the second half — scored 11 of his team’s first 15 points and gave Maryland an opportunity to make a run at the Fighting Illini. He finished with 20 points, six assists and four rebounds.

2. Darryl Morsell was everywhere

Morsell has put together good performances over the past three games — averaging 11.33 points and 5.33 rebounds — but his most impressive outing in conference play came Friday night against the Fighting Illini.

After Morsell knocked down his third and fourth free throws near the 8:35 mark, the Terps transitioned into a full-court press. On the second pass of the press break, Morsell snagged a lazy pass and found a streaking Donta Scott cutting toward the basket for an easy two.

Three minutes later, Morsell received the ball on the baseline and threw down a powerful dunk to cut Illinois’ lead to five.

Though the Baltimore native had 15 points — the second-most on the team — his play on the defensive side of the ball made a big difference.

With 18:25 left in the second half, Kofi Cockburn was double-teamed by Jalen Smith and Scott, and he looked to pass out of it. Morsell — with Cockburn and his man in his peripheral vision— stalked the big man’s pass and picked it off as if he was a safety on Mike Locksley’s defense. The junior missed the layup, but Cowan followed him, cutting the lead back to two.

Two minutes later, Morsell stripped Giorgi Bezhanishvili and allowed the ball to bounce right into the hands of the Terps. After receiving the ball and taking one dribble, Cowan three a full-court pass to Smith for a dunk that gave Maryland its first lead since the 17:30 mark in the first half.

“He’s more locked in defensively. And when he’s like that defensively, I think offensively, he becomes more of a problem,” Wiggins said. “His head’s just in it a little bit more — he’s more focussed.”

Morsell — as the glue guy typically does — showed up and showed out tonight against the Fighting Illini. Along with his 15 points, Morsell grabbed five boards, notched three assists and stole the ball four times. He also was a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe.

3. The Terps proved they’re a legitimate contender

Expectations surrounding this game were monumental with the winner having sole possession of first place in the toughest conference in college basketball.

Earlier this season, the Terps, who started the season 0-4 in true road games, may have folded after going down 14 points to a team in a hostile environment.

But as it did against Northwestern and Indiana, Maryland weathered the storm and stayed the course, proving once again that the team is playing the best basketball of anyone in the conference.

The Terps have now won six straight — the longest win streak in the Big Ten — and have the best record in their last 10 games (8-2).

“You know how it is, the world was coming to an end when we lost a game on the road,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “To win at Indiana with their crowd and to win today here with this building and the way they started making shots shows a lot about my guys and their toughness.”

Though there were many ups-and-downs with the team’s year so far, Turgeon has clearly turned his team around and has them playing their best basketball with eight games remaining on the schedule.