Maryland 62, Illinois 56
CHAMPAIGN - Even after a feel-good rout of Michigan on Wednesday, Illinois coach John Groce harped on what Illinois didn't do well: defend.
Well, message received. But one of the Illini's stronger defensive efforts this season wasn't enough to account for a frigid shooting second half.
Illinois (12-6, 2-3 Big Ten), which shot a season-best 64.2 percent on Wednesday, shot just 37.5 percent from the field (7-for-22 from three) in Saturday's loss to Maryland -- including a paltry 27.5 percent in the second half.
Early on, the Illini stifled the Terps -- which scored 84 points in a 25-point win over Illinois on Dec. 27 -- and took a 27-16 lead late in the first half. But Illinois went 7:53 without a point at one point during the second half, helping Maryland go on a 22-4 run to claim a 53-43 lead.
Maryland (16-2, 4-1 Big Ten) was paced by freshman Anthony Cowan (19 points, 5-for-7 FG) and seven rebounds. Junior Jaylen Brantley (12 points, 5-for-10 FG), while Melo Trimble scored 12 points on 5-for-16 shooting.
Maverick Morgan (5-for-10 FG, 5-for-7 FT) led Illinois with 15 points. Leron Black scored 14 points (6-for-10 FG) and pulled down nine rebounds, and Malcolm Hill added 11 points (5-for-14 FG) and eight rebounds. But each only made one field goal in the second half. Jalen Coleman-Lands (nine points) shot 3-for-12 FG including 3-for-11 from three.
The Terps, which scored 48 points in the paint against Illinois last month, outscored Illinois in the paint 32-14. The Terps started 1-for-9 from three but made five of their next nine from beyond the arc.
Maryland's bench out-scored Illinois 21-7 and had the edge in fastbreak points (12-2).
Illinois has been under .500 after the first five Big Ten games during each of John Groce's five seasons. The Illini haven't started 3-0 at home in Big Ten play since 2012.
What it means
Illinois failed to defend homecourt and now must make up for it on the road. They face a huge task but have a huge opportunity on Tuesday in West Lafayette before heading to Michigan on Saturday. The Illini came out of the gates strong and had the season-best State Farm Center crowd (14,002 attendance) feeling good early. But once again, Illinois struggled to sustain 40 minutes of strong basketball. Illinois is yet to beat a certain NCAA Tournament team. Until the Illini do, they won't be an NCAA Tournament team.
What went right
Maryland chucked up threes -- and it helped Illinois in the first half -- and the Illini defense played a little better. It's like the Terps forgot that they scored 48 points in the paint on Dec. 27 against Illinois, which could not contain their dribble drives. Credit to Illinois though, which looked more locked in on defense. The Illini stayed in front of Maryland's point guards a little better, but Maryland found its shooting rhythm in the second half and got to the rim in the second half. The Terps also kept Illinois in the game late by shooting 8-for-17 from the free throw line in the second half.
The Illini post offense can dangerous. It was supposed to be the strength of this year's team, but it's been pretty inconsistent. But Morgan is a big-man bucket-getter, both on the block and from the midrange. Teams are starting to scheme their defense to stop him. Think about that!. How far he's come. But Maryland did a good job of post-trapping him and taking him away in the second half, and the Illini had no counter.
What went wrong
Turnovers. Illinois should have had a much bigger halftime lead, but it committed seven first-half turnovers -- and Maryland had six first-half fastbreak points. By the end of the game, Illinois and Maryland both had 12 turnovers. But the Terps won the points off turnovers battle 14-4.
Illinois ranks third lowest among 351 Division I teams in percentage of field goal attempts at the rim. That came back to haunt them in the second half. Illinois couldn't get an easy bucket when it most needed one. It's a two-point jump-shooting team -- shots that are lower percentage than at the rim and less of a reward than threes -- and those teams usually can go ice cold through stretches.
Hill disappeared in the second. If he wants to be All-Big Ten and make the NCAA Tournament, he has to stop other teams' runs and find a way to put the ball in the bucket. Stars do that consistently. Hill is a great player, but that comes with great pressure.
The Illinois backcourt was bad. Te'Jon Lucas (two points, four assists, one turnover) struggled defensively and lost time late to Jaylon Tate. Meanwhile, Jalen Coleman-Lands forced several heat-check threes when the Illini needed a good possession. Tracy Abrams (zero points, two assists, two turnovers, four fouls) doesn't have the same bounce he had early on in the season. He airballed another three. He could use a veteran's day off or a bye week. Abrams has just 25 points over the last six games on 10-for-39 shooting.
The Illini defense may have been slightly better, but the Illini struggled to defend the rim in the second half.
After such a great performance on Wednesday, Kipper Nichols was mostly a non-factor, finishing with zero points (0-2 FG) and two rebounds in 10 minutes.
Illinois travels to No. 17 Purdue for a 6 p.m. Tuesday tipoff. The Boilermakers (14-4, 3-2 Big Ten) lost at Iowa on Thursday, but they again feature one of the strongest post rotations in the country. Sophomore Caleb Swanigan is the frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year, averaging 18.2 points and 12.6 rebounds. Junior center Isaac Haas averages 13.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. The Illini are 0-2 in true road games and lost the two conference games by a combined 41 points. Illinois has lost five straight at Mackey Arena, where its last win came in 2008, a 71-67 overtime win.