Maryland 84, Illinois 59
Different team, same feel for Illinois (10-4) in College Park a season later -- and that shouldn't happen.
Maryland (13-1) absolutely crushed the Illini 84-59, which was frighteningly similar to Illinois' 81-55 loss late last season as a depleted team. But this time, Illinois had no injuries. Maryland had four new starters, including three freshmen. And the Terps were without their two centers due to injury.
But the Illini were utterly dominated in the Big Ten opener. Maryland shot 55.9 percent from the field, while scoring 48 points in the paint -- double Illinois' total despite a clear size advantage. And with that size 'advantage', the Illini lost the rebounding battle 37-to-36.
Illinois also had 17 turnovers, which was just four fewer than their total made field goals on the game.
Malcolm Hill led all scorers with 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting. The rest of the Illini were 15-of-49 (30.6 percent) with 16 turnovers for just 38 points combined.
On the other side, Maryland exploited the Illini with their point guard duo of Melo Trimble (20 points) and Anthony Cowan (12 points). In addition to their 32 points combined, they also totaled eight assists. Jaylen Brantley (13) and Justin Jackson (12) also scored in double figures.
It was ugly from the very beginning for the Illini, who were down 15-4 to start the game at the 12:35 mark -- going 2-of-12 from the field with six turnovers. That lead was extended to 23-8 Maryland with the Terps leading the points in the paint battle 18-to-0.
Hill was the only Illini player with a bucket in the final seven minutes of the first half. He had 12 points at halftime on 4-of-7 shooting. The rest of the Illinois roster went 4-of-23 (17.4 percent) for 11 points.
Maryland took an 18-point lead to start the second half on a layup. The Illini handed out layups like candy, as they allowed Maryland to get five of them during a 14-0 stretch later in the half that made it 61-33 with just less than 11 minutes to go.
It was a slow and painful death from there on out.
What it means
Illinois was downright embarrassed in this game. They were out-executed, out-toughed, out-prepared, out-coached, out-classed and out-everything. The Illini had plenty of doubters heading into Big Ten play, even after winning their last six nonconference games. John Groce and his team did nothing to prove them wrong on Tuesday. A loss in this game on its own is a missed opportunity. But losing by 25 against a young team that's expected to be middle of the pack in the Big Ten raises an enormous amount of red flags. About as many as the white flags that are being waved by the fan base in relation to this coaching regime.
What went right
Hill scored more points than anyone on the court. He's now scored 20-plus in six of his last eight Big Ten road games. He also had a team-high seven rebounds.
Leron Black hit his first career three-pointer.
The game ended.
What went wrong
The Illini defense was pathetic. They provided no resistance whatsoever. Maryland got to the rim at will. Simple ball-screens gave the Terps the ability to blow by. Oftentimes, they didn't even need one of those. Illinois did nothing to make Maryland feel uncomfortable at any point. Individually and as a unit, this team is extremely faulty at the defensive end.
Maryland owned the point guard battle. Trimble and Cowan were far too much -- combining for 32 points and eight assists. Cowan was dynamic off the dribble, and Illinois lack of defense on the ball and off it made things easy. Meanwhile, Tracy Abrams was awful -- and he was -26 in the plus/minus tally. He went 1-of-10 from the field and 0-of-6 from three. It looked like a step back to the mean for a player who was never a plus-shooter prior to this season. Jaylon Tate was no better with no points (0-4) in 18 minutes. He provided no value. And Groce didn't give Te'Jon Lucas a chance until late.
Illinois' offense was dysfunctional. They forced bad shots. They couldn't establish anything consistent inside. Maryland pressured the ball and took Illinois' offense off the hinges. The Illini looked lost more often than not -- resorting to forced isolation rather than dictated movement and execution. They also had no counter for Maryland's post trap.
Maryland was without their two centers Damonte Dodd (MCL sprain) and Michal Cekovsky (left ankle). Illinois could not take advantage at all. The Terps won the rebounding battle and had more second-chance points. And the Illini were shameful with points in the paint.
The Illini role players stunk -- for the most part. Mike Thorne Jr. gave Illinois 10 points, but he made some ugly mistakes. Jalen Coleman-Lands had just four points with three turnovers and no defensive resistance. Maverick Morgan came crashing back to earth with five points and three rebounds. Black continued his struggles with just three points (1-5). Michael Finke hurt Illinois more than he helped with just five points, while getting beat repeatedly on defense.
Illinois was out-coached. By a lot. Maryland was far more prepared. They scouted the Illini well and took things away that they wanted to do. Illinois looked ill-prepared, they couldn't make adjustments and couldn't stop the bleeding. The Terps -- one of the youngest teams in the conference -- looked like the team with the most veterans in the Big Ten. Not Illinois.
The Illini will host Ohio State (10-3) at the State Farm Center on New Year's Day at 6 p.m. CT. This will be the Big Ten opener for the Buckeyes. After defeating his former boss Thad Matta in their first Big Ten meeting in Jan. 2013, Groce has lost six straight against Ohio State. With Tuesday's showing and a trip to Indiana coming later next week, this is a game Illinois needs to win.