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Four Observations On The Terps' Win At Illinois

December 4, 2017
Maryland beat Illinois, 92-91, in Champaign, Ill., Dec. 3. The Terps improved to 7-3 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten with the overtime victory. Here are four observations about the game:

1. Maryland was fortunate to push the game into overtime.

The Terps were down, 75-73, with about four seconds left in regulation. All Illinois had to do to ice the game was successfully inbound the ball from under its own basket, get fouled and make two free throws. However, Illinois guard Da'Monte Williams threw the inbounds pass out of bounds, and Maryland suddenly had a chance to tie or win the game off an inbounds pass under Illinois' hoop.

Sophomore guard Kevin Huerter missed a corner 3-pointer off the inbounds pass from junior guard Dion Wiley, but freshman forward Bruno Fernando put back Huerter's miss with one hand to send the game to overtime. Fernando made the shot over Illinois freshman forward Kipper Nichols, displaying the strength and skill Terps fans heard about before Fernando arrived in College Park, Md. 
 
Before Fernando's basket, Maryland's last points had come via sophomore forward Justin Jackson with 2:12 left in regulation. The Terps turned the ball over four times during the final two minutes; at one point, sophomore guard Anthony Cowan Jr. was called for a 10-second violation for not crossing half-court in time. 

2. Cowan was the best player on the court in overtime and ultimately won the game for Maryland.

Cowan scored nine points during the overtime session and made the game-winning play with the score tied at 91. Cowan was isolated against guard Mark Alstork, drove right and was bumped by Alstork with 0.6 seconds remaining. Cowan made the first free throw to put the Terps ahead and missed the second one intentionally.

Maryland ran its offense through Cowan during the extra session much like it did in similar situations the prior three years with Melo Trimble. In addition to scoring nine points, Cowan also had two assists, including a pretty alley-oop to Fernando. Cowan, who's been the best player for Maryland so far this season, finished the game with a game-high 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting with six assists in 43 minutes.  

Huerter and Jackson were also big during overtime, as Huerter made two 3-pointers and Jackson made a pull-up jumper. Cowan, Huerter and Jackson combined for 64 points on the night, the kind of offensive output the Terps will almost certainly need again from the trio once Big Ten play restarts in January. 

The trio had to make a ton of shots throughout the game because …

3. Maryland couldn't stop Illinois from scoring after halftime.

The Terps, using more 2-3 zone defense than they had all year, held the Illini to 26 points during the first half and took a 17-point lead into halftime. They started the second half well and built a 20-point lead about five minutes into the half. But the floodgates opened after that, as a 20-6 Illinois run made it merely a 63-57 advantage for the Terps with a little less than 10 minutes to play. 

Suddenly a two-possession game with Illinois' arena rocking, the game appeared to be slipping away from Maryland. Turnovers plagued the Terps -- they had 25 on the night, which certainly contributed to their second-half issues -- but the biggest problems were on the defensive end.

The Illini scored 65 points from the start of the second half to the end of overtime. Illinois shot 67.9 percent from the field in the second half and scored every time it had the ball in overtime. The 3-pointers the Illini missed in the first half started to fall after halftime, and they began to find open looks around the rim. Maryland had no answers for forward Leron Black and guard Aaron Jordan in the second half, or for Alstork in overtime.

4. The Terps needed a win, and they got it despite blowing a lead that ballooned to 22 points at one point early in the second half. Now, they have some time to fix their issues.

Maryland came into its game against Illinois having lost three of its last four games, and those three losses came by a total of nine points. But with a conference win now under their belt, the Terps can focus on improving before Big Ten play restarts against Penn State Jan. 2. Maryland has five nonconference foes, all of whom the Terps will be heavily favored against, on its schedule from Dec. 7-29.

That gives Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon time to tinker with his rotation. Does he continue to experiment with using two big men on the court at the same time -- junior Ivan Bender and senior Michal Cekovsky started Dec. 3 -- or does a small ball lineup with Jackson at power forward continue to be his preferred lineup? Does he try to integrate senior Sean Obi and redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic into the rotation more? 

The five-game stretch also gives Jackson an opportunity to build on his performance Dec. 3, when he scored 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting and looked the most comfortable he's looked all year with the ball in his hands. For as hard as he hits the glass and plays defense, Jackson has to be productive offensively for the Terps to be at their best.

Maryland also has to find a reliable secondary ball-handler so Cowan isn't forced to play huge minutes every night once conference play restarts. Freshman Darryl Morsell and Huerter each took a turn at point guard during the brief time Cowan was on the bench Dec. 3, and each turned the ball over. Cowan didn't sit back down once he re-entered.

Turgeon has given Morsell, Huerter and Wiley opportunities at point guard this year, with Morsell getting the most run as Cowan's backup. Morsell and Huerter are skilled passers, but have turned the ball over a lot this year and aren't prototypical point guards. The Terps have a month to develop one into true backup point guard or develop an effective backup-point-guard-by-committee approach.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox