The Maryland men's basketball team closed its home schedule with a 81-55 win against Illinois, sending off its four seniors on a high note. It was certainly the final game in Xfinity Center for Jake Layman, Rasheed Sulaimon, Varun Ram and Trevor Anzmann, and it could've been the same for a handful of NBA prospects elsewhere on the roster.
Melo Trimble, mired in a career-worst slump for most of conference play, turned in one of his better games of the season. He scored 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting and added eight rebounds. In their closing acts in front of a home crowd, Layman added 18 points in one of his own best games. The Terps were, as ever, not perfect, but they handled Illinois with enough ease to make the night an encouraging one on the whole. The game turned into a blowout as time wore on.
Maryland clinched a double bye in next week's Big Ten Tournament. The Terps cannot win the league outright, but they can secure a top-three seed by beating league champion Indiana in Bloomington on Sunday.
The first half was sloppy for Maryland. The Terps managed a 31-21 lead by the break and mostly corrected their recent rebounding woes, but they (along with Illinois) had seven turnovers and didn't secure the ball well. They held Illinois to 35 percent shooting but only shot 44 percent themselves, and etcetera and etcetera. It was garden-variety "Maryland plays just OK but does a little better than a mediocre Big Ten team at home" basketball.
The Terps benefited from a 9-0 run at the point of the first media timeout in the second half, and they were never in any real danger after that. The Terps are practically allergic to easy wins, but they got on a terrific shooting run – punctuated with a couple of Robert Carter Jr. three-pointers – that put the game on cruise control by the end.
In the closing moments, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon looked toward the end of his bench and brought on seniors Ram and then Anzmann, neither of whom had played a minute beforehand. Layman and Sulaimon came off to a rousing Maryland ovation for the last time, and the Terrapins got the kind of uplifting moment that defines college basketball at its best. It's not entirely clear where this Maryland team is going, but where it is right now is worth appreciation.
Three things to know
1. Melo Trimble is on the upswing. His game at Purdue wasn't nearly perfect, but Trimble showed Melo-like signs throughout Maryland's loss there last weekend, when he was 9-of-10 at the foul line. Against the Illini, he was a penetrative threat and looked to have his usual confidence and burst near the basket. If Trimble really is back, it's the best possible development for Maryland at this juncture in the season.
2. Maryland finally defended its own glass. The Terps were brutal on the defensive boards against Purdue, but they limited Illinois to eight offensive rebounds on 35 missed shots. The Illini are one of the worst offensive boarding teams in the entire country, you say? Well, they sure are, and the Illini oftentimes didn't even make an effort to crash. But Maryland will take anything it can get at this point. It's progress.
3. The Terps closed out another brilliant home season. It's easy to lose sight of this in the midst of Maryland's recent three-in-four losing stretch, but the Terps just wrapped a run of two home losses in two seasons. They were 16-1 there this season and 18-1 last season. College Park has become a terribly unfriendly place for visiting teams.
4. Jake Layman got the career capper he deserved. Layman was never the guy for Maryland, because he spent his entire career playing next to either Dez Wells or Trimble. He hasn't always been aggressive on offense, and he hasn't double-doubled in every big game he's ever played. For that, fans have been hard on him. It's been largely unwarranted for a player who's been hugely productive for three years and contributing solidly for four. Layman deserved a lovefest in his last home game, and the people finally gave it to him.