Are Illini Ready For Maryland Road Test?

Things get a lot tougher for the Fighting Illini basketball team Tuesday night. After six wins at home or neutral sites, they travel to Maryland for the Big 10-ACC Challenge game. Maryland has a new coach and is rebuilding, but it will be difficult to beat at home. It will be a stiff early test for the young Illini.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon is 3-2 in his first year at the helm. His losses have come to a strong Alabama team and Iona. Illinois coach Bruce Weber is familiar with Turgeon and his style of play.

"I know Mark Turgeon very well; I've faced him a lot of times when he was at Wichita. They're gonna be well coached and come at you. They're learning. It's all new to them, and they're figuring it out. I'm sure it's gonna be a tough game. It's a good game for us to see what we can do on the road."

Rebuilding mode aside, Weber knows there are factors favoring the Terrapins besides desiring payback for their loss to Illinois in Madison Square Garden last season.

"Maryland, they're down a little bit. But it's still not gonna be easy at an ACC facility. It's gonna be tough."

Weber is still in observation mode with his team as well. He's eager to see if his youngsters will take the game seriously and respond positively to the challenge.

"They've got to understand that Maryland is gonna be a hard game. We're gonna have to play good basketball like we did against Richmond and stretches against Illinois State.

"When you go on the road that first time, it's not easy. The crowd freezes you, you've got to play through tough times. You find out a lot about your team."

Sophomore guard Terry Stoglin (6'-1", 185) leads the Terps with a 20 point scoring average. Backcourt mate Sean Mosely, a senior at 6'-4", 210, seconds him in scoring at 11 a game. Junior forward James Padgett (6'-8", 225) leads the team in rebounding and averages 8 points a game. The other two starters have been freshman guard Nick Faust (6'-6", 175) and senior center Berend Weijs (6'-10", 200).

Others expected to see time include soph guard Mychal Parker (6'-5", 195), redshirt freshman forward Ashton Pankey (6'-9", 220), junior guard Jonathan Thomas (6'-2", 190) and soph forward John Auslander (6'-7", 225).

Weber has been pleased with his large freshman group. He hopes they continue their progress in their first road game.

"I think Tracy Abrams has made huge strides. Just trying to be a point guard, listening, he comes over and asks questions, he'll call me on the phone.

"If Nnanna (Egwu) will slow down and catch the ball, he always gets stuff done. Sometimes it's too much. And then Mike Shaw is learning to be solid. Myke Henry can score.

"Ibby (Djimde), I know we can use him for two minutes here and there to guard somebody. He is as good a defender as probably any of our big guys. Nnanna is pretty good too."

Illini sophomores are also stepping up their games, creating the dilemma of who gets what minutes. Meyers Leonard starts and is a force on the offensive end, but Weber says he needs to step up his post defense. Crandall Head and Joe Bertrand are also doing some good things.

"Crandall and Joe are young guys, and they've made strides. They've definitely made it a challenge for me as a coach, just to keep them confident and keep them involved and use them in the right way.

"No one talks about it, but every game (Bertrand) is 3 for 4, 2 for 3, a couple rebounds and assists. He quietly does his job, so you feel good about him. When he pulls up for that jumper, you think it's going in. It's good."

Weber will need his youngsters to come through for him, not only against Maryland but for the rest of the pre-Christmas schedule. With UNLV defeating UNC late Saturday night, the schedule became even tougher.

"After Maryland you then come back with the (Gonzaga) Zags. I think they're still in the top 25. Even St. Bonnie is gonna be tough. So it's a big ten day stretch for us heading into exams.

"Vegas made it a little tougher. It definitely made our schedule look a little more attractive. And now we see Missouri has played pretty well. We've got a tough road to hoe."

It all begins at Maryland. Like Weber reminds, it's not do-or-die, but it's close.

"We've got a big challenge, and it starts Tuesday night."

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