Maryland men’s basketball interim head coach Danny Manning has emphasized that his team must continue to fight, and it showed that against Illinois on Friday, Jan. 21.
Strong play from junior forward Donta Scott (25 points) helped the Terrapins (10-9, 2-6 Big Ten) defeat No. 17 Illinois (13-5, 6-2 Big Ten), 81-65, at Xfinity Center. The victory marked Maryland’s second win against an opponent that was ranked at the time of the game.
“This is big for us, personally, because it just gives us confidence, and it just instills that … the season isn’t over,” Scott said. “As long as you’ve still got a game ahead of you, you’ve still always got that fight.”
The Terps came out with intensity, displaying solid offense and confidence early on, something the team has struggled with lately. Maryland got things rolling first, as senior guard Eric Ayala made a jumper only 15 seconds into the game.
However, Illinois graduate student Jacob Grandison immediately responded with a basket. The first half continued to flow similarly, as both teams continuously traded baskets. Early baskets from the Terps came from Ayala, junior center Qudus Wahab and graduate guard Fatts Russell. Maryland nailed its first four shot attempts of the night.
Both teams remained close to one another throughout the first half, as neither team developed and maintained a substantial lead. Yet, veterans were the key for the Terps. Scott led the Terps with 10 first-half points. Russell and Wahab both had eight points, and Ayala had seven points.
Wahab appeared to play with more confidence than he has of late. One of his more memorable baskets of the half was a second-chance dunk that tied the game at 29. The Georgetown transfer finished the first half with eight points and four rebounds.
“I thought Q got us off to a good start with his offensive rebounds and finishes at the rim,” Manning said.
Despite the improvements the Terps showed on the offensive end, they also struggled some with turnovers. The home team committed six first-half turnovers. Five of the Fighting Illini’s points came off of Terrapin turnovers.
But with less than one minute remaining in the first half, junior guard Hakim Hart stole the ball from Illinois senior Trent Frazier. Hart sprinted down the court and finished with a dunk, giving the Terps additional momentum heading into halftime.
After several games trailing by a significant margin at the half, the Terps held a tight 37-35 lead. Maryland scored 20 points in the paint.
“Just across the board, we got contributions from everyone who played in some way, shape or fashion,” Manning said.
Illinois graduate student Alfonso Plummer opened up the second half with a 3-pointer 14 seconds after the start, sparking a 13-5 run for the Illini.
But the fighting mentality reappeared for the Terps. A 3-pointer by freshman center Julian Reese put the Terps within one point of Illinois (48-47) about five minutes into the second half. Scott immediately followed that up with a second-chance pull-up jumper in the paint. Russell responded with a layup on a fast break to tie the game at 51.
“The last two games, I felt like I wasn’t attacking how I should’ve,” Russell said. “Not just for myself but for my teammates. Today, I went out there and be that point guard everyone can feed off of.”
Still, Illinois did not back down. Frazier and Grandison led Illinois’ offense in the second half. The pair combined for 18 points in the second half.
But Maryland soon took over the game. It started with a 3-point shot from Reese that gave the Terps a one-point lead (57-56) with about eight minutes left. The basket was Reese’s second 3-pointer of the night.
“Julian is a very talented and special player. … I think he’s scratching the surface of how good he is going to be,” Manning said.
Illinois soon began to struggle offensively, and Maryland took advantage of that.
Scott made two consecutive layups and a free throw, extending Maryland’s lead to six points (64-58). The Philadelphia native carried his team the rest of the half, as Maryland went on an 11-0 run to secure the victory. Scott finished the night with a career-high 25 points.
“I think this type of game, for him, is what we like to see from the standpoint that he made some 3-pointers, stretched the defense out,” Manning said. “But he also put the ball [on the floor] and got to the rim, drew fouls and put them in tough situations.”
Aside from Scott, three other Terps finished in double figures: Hart (10), Russell (15) and Wahab (11). Maryland scored 40 points inside the paint.
The Terps fought until the end. Scott was pleased with the effort.
“I like the fight a lot because I feel like last game we fell real short, and guys just stepped up to the plate and did the things that maybe they weren’t doing last game … so I’m really happy, and I really appreciate the guys, all of them, for just being here and stepping up to the plate,” Scott said.
Here are other notable aspects of the Terps’ win …
Danny Manning switched up the lineup again.
After the Terps stuck with the same starting lineup for 16 consecutive games, Manning shuffled the starters for the third time in the past three games. Graduate forward Simon Wright made his first start as a Terrapin instead of Scott.
“Across the board, it’s our job as a staff to challenge our guys to not only do well off the court as well as on the court,” Manning said regarding the decision to start Wright over Scott.
Scott did not enter the contest until three minutes after the start. Yet, he immediately made an impact. His first basket was a hook shot jumper that came less than two minutes after entering the game. Scott said he wanted to do anything that would help his team win.
He led the Terps in scoring both at the end of the first half and the end of the game.
Meanwhile, Wright posted zero points in five minutes of play.
Ian Martinez saw no playing time.
Sophomore guard Ian Martinez saw no playing time against the Fighting Illini. Martinez had developed a solid spot in the rotation off the bench alongside graduate guard Xavier Green and Reese.
However, Martinez has struggled offensively recently. The Utah transfer posted six points in his last five games entering play Jan. 21. He has not scored more than two points since Nov. 25 against Richmond.
Illinois played without star Kofi Cockburn.
Illinois played without star center Kofi Cockburn, who entered concussion protocol after the team’s recent game against Purdue. Cockburn posted 23 points and 18 rebounds the last time the Terps and Illini faced off. Maryland struggled offensively and defensively whenever he was on the court.
Maryland scored more points in the paint without Cockburn’s 7-foot, 285-pound frame this time around, as it finished with 40 points from the paint. Illinois only finished with 16 paint points.
“It’s a hard deal when you’re without arguably the best player in college basketball. … Donta Scott did a great job of taking advantage of the fact [Cockburn] wasn’t there,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said.
Qudus Wahab left the second half early.
After a solid first half, Wahab only played four minutes in the second half. The Nigeria native appeared to hurt his hand early on in the second half. Although Wahab appeared to receive treatment on the bench, he did not return to the game.
“He was available, but at that point in time, I just liked the rotation of how things were going,” Manning said.
Wahab posted 11 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes of play.
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