Feb 8, 2020

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The stage was set for a special night. #20 Illinois vs # 9 Maryland for sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. The first game between two ranked teams in Champaign since 2013. The Orange Krush started lining up early in the afternoon. Campustown was also buzzing as the line to get into NEW-KAMS stretched a block long a full two hours before tipoff. A sold out State Farm Center was the epicenter of college basketball once again on this night. It was the perfect opportunity for Illinois to loudly announce their presence on the national scene. And...thud. Or maybe "clank" would be more appropriate. Two hours and 39 missed shots later, all the air was out of the balloon as Maryland walked off with a 75-66 win. Cue the Price Is Right trombone noise.

And the thing is - it could not have started better. The Illini surged to a 31-17 lead midway through the first half. Andres Feliz was getting downhill, Kofi Cockburn was dunking, the Maryland bench was losing it, DA'MONTE WILLIAMS WAS DRAINING THREES. The SFC was legitimately rocking - not that obligatory hometown cheering that a politely loyal crowd offers up to a 12 win team. This was "House of Paign" circa 2005 level rocking. It was fantastic.

Alas, the seeds of our discontent were soon planted. Trent Frazier went to the bench with his second foul with 12 minutes left to play in the half (more on that later). Cockburn would eventually follow him to the bench with his second foul. The Illini began leaving points out on the floor in a variety of unfortunate ways. Blown layups, missed free throws, unforced errors. A lot was made after the game about how Maryland switching to a 3-2 zone thoroughly disrupted the lllini offense and completely changed the course of the game.

I would offer that it's not exactly a surprise a zone would be effective when a team's best three point shooter and best rebounder are both on the bench. As Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said afterward - referencing that his zone was opportunistically effective: "sometimes you have be as lucky as you are good."

Even through all that the Illini had still had firm control of the game - up 40-32 with under 90 seconds to go in the half before the Terps scored 8 points in the final minute to cut the Illini lead to 42-40 at half. They carried that momentum well into the second half as Illinois missed their first 12 shots and Maryland extended to a 53-44 lead. From up 14 to down 9. A 38-15 run.

Illinois scratched back to within one point at 53-52, and had a chance to recapture the lead, but a crucial careless turnover from Giorgi Bezhanishvili - the second such turnover from him in two games - gave the ball back to the Terps. They drained a three pointer on the ensuing possession, and were able to maintain a two possession lead for basically the remainder of the game.

So while this loss may not end up meaning much in the grand scheme, it certainly feels like a massive opportunity wasted. After all of the buildup leading into the game and then after the great start - there was a genuine "WE ARE BACK" vibe in the air. I SO wanted to bask in that glow again tonight. Instead I watched a fully deflated crowd file glumly out into the snow, and all of a sudden there is a tiny sliver of doubt annoyingly working its way into my oh so fragile Illini psyche. It's always disappointing to lose - especially at home, but it's especially frustrating when you walk away from that game feeling like we didn't play up to the moment. It was most certainly a buzzkill.

The Illini have now lost consecutive games for the first time since early December, and the upcoming schedule offers no mercy. Michigan State comes to town in four days and then a rugged road trip through Rutgers and Penn State. This Illini team showed great toughness in building an 8-2 conference record through the first half of the conference season, now we'll see how they handle adversity.


+The "autobench" was a huge factor for the second straight game. Ayo Dosunmu sat for 8 first half minutes after picking up his second foul at Iowa on Sunday, while tonight Trent Frazier went to the bench with two fouls at the 12 minute mark of the first half. Neither player committed a second half foul until the final minute of each respective game. So by benching them in the first half - the net effect is the same as them actually fouling out. If you are consistently benching players with two fouls in the first half and yet none of those players are coming close to actually fouling out - then I might suggest your risk aversion sense is a bit too strong. Underwood admitted after the game when asked about the strategy that "it might be something we think a little differently now." One can hope.

+Maryland's length was a big problem for Illinois tonight - contributing to a litany of missed layups - especially in the second half. In fact the Illini actually shot a fraction better from the three point line (36.4%) than they did on two point attempts (35.9%). This is becoming a concerning trend here at the SFC where Illinois is shooting just 39% in conference games - compared to 42% on the road. Neither number exactly jumps off the page, but it's worth noting that it appears this team will be prone to shooting slumps whether on the road or at home.

+Giorgi Bezhanishvili will be happy that the season series against Maryland is over (barring a matchup in the postseason). In the two games against the Terps he scored just 9 total points on 4/13 shooting and committed 6 turnovers.

+Alan Griffin was doing Alan Griffin things again tonight with 9 points and 9 rebounds. Can't help but think he might have been useful in those first 8 minutes of the second half.


skibdaddy on February 8, 2020 @ 07:48 AM

I was worried before the game that it felt like it did before the North Carolina football game a few years ago... And it sure played out in a similar fashion.

A sell out crowd, much buzz and anticipation, a great start, then a better team asserts its will and walks away with a convincing win at our house ...

I can only hope that this situation turns out differently as a whole, but the upcoming schedule is daunting. We will definitely see what this team is made of in the next 3 games

ATOillini on February 8, 2020 @ 09:18 AM

Any objective assessment of this game comes to the conclusion that the better team won. Not saying we can't beat them. Am saying if we played 20 times they win a significant majority.

Length and athleticism is an area where we (still) often have a disadvantage. This is exactly why the well as their press which immediately led to a turnover......bothered us so much. As an example, Trent takes only 4 shots not because he's afraid to shoot, rather good shots were simply hard to get.

We may dislike our opponents, but the conference is full of good coaches and coaching staffs. Tip of the cap to Turgeon for his adjustments. Giorgi caught people off guard last year. Not so much this year. They know what his strengths and weaknesses are.

The up 8 with 90 seconds to go to only up 2 after Maryland drains a 3 at the buzzer to end the first half was a significant momentum change. I had that bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. Shooting 14 for 24 on free throws and taking just over 8 minutes to make the first basket of the second half (at home no less) is not known as a recipe for winning.

Finishing on a positive - Really impressed with Griffin's effort. Without him we may have been blown out. His determination getting rebounds is a thing of beauty. Plus he just looks so pure on those 3 point attempts. Team must regroup for MSU.

PapaDels4me on February 8, 2020 @ 10:09 AM

Good comments, ATO

Definitely needed to defend better in those final 90 seconds of first half. Just no reason to give up so many points, especially the final trey.

I love Andres Feliz, but in the second half it felt like he was pressing because no one else was doing anything. He is flat out amazing when he is driving the lane naturally, but when he has to go into the trees on a suicide mission, well, that is what we get.

To parallel your "close on an up note", it was wonderful to see DaMonte hit a couple of buckets.

PapaDels4me on February 8, 2020 @ 10:11 AM

And why doesn't the editor save my edits? Then I wouldn't look like I don't know how to review my work.

AGig21 on February 8, 2020 @ 10:26 AM

Damonte's 3's were fools gold. Trent leaving really hurt, with an opponent like this you gotta role the dice with him at least for a bit longer. Their length out front caused a lot of standing and then having to lob over them thus running the shot clock down. G is very timid inside, maybe looking to pass too much; it's ok to have 2 alpha males down low when they get the ball that close to the bucket. oh....MAKE YOUR FREE THROWS!!!! I will also compare this game to your first semester final. Up all night studying, crowded classroom, everyone else in the room looking wide eyed just like you, excited, scared to death and midway your gut starts churning. when you walk out you hope to get a C-. but guess what??? you got another one on Tuesday! so learn from this! it's more than just knowing what's in the book and you can fail or barely pass one exam and still do pretty darn good for the semester.

PapaDels4me on February 8, 2020 @ 11:07 AM

I don't agree with the fool's gold comment. Its not as if he then went on a heat check rampage or changed his game or the team's game in anyway. It in no way hurt us for DaMonte to hit a couple of shots.

AGig21 on February 8, 2020 @ 11:14 AM

fool's gold for the fans. not the team. After seeing the gold of him hitting the shots fans thought if he's knocking them down then we got this. who thought before the game it hinged upon him knocking down any shots?

Giovantischixstripz on February 8, 2020 @ 10:59 AM

I believe Brad Underwood is a pretty good coach. It is frustrating that I think his 2 worst coached games of the year have been against the same team. The first time around, he didn't try much to slow the Maryland surge and then botched the late game situation. This time, he was unable to match the adjustments Turgeon made. When it comes to the 2 foul benching, I think the 2 players he should really trust with 2 fouls are Ayo and Trent. Kofi needs to sit with 2 because players his size pick up fouls when they breath on someone. But we really could have used Trent's (and more Alan!) zone busting ability.

When Kofi was sitting with 2 fouls the last 5 minutes of the first and at the 15 minute mark of the 2nd, Alan Griffin needs to be in the game during those stretches. His offensive rebounding largely makes up for Kofi being out, and his shot making could have broken our droughts. Also, Brad hurt us by trying that hybrid defense (I guess it was a triangle and 2? It was too disorganized to really tell). Maybe go to it once out of a timeout, but the guys clearly didn't know where they should be a couple of times and it led to easy buckets for Maryland. Can't break something like that out for more than a possession out of a time out unless the team has really mastered it in practice, and it looked pretty clear they didn't.

All that said, tip of the hat to Maryland. I still have hopes we can hang in the conference championship race until the end with a win vs MSU, but I do think Maryland and MSU are just slightly more talented and experienced than we are. After the Giorgi turnover and Morsell 3 Maryland got 2 more huge buckets, the lucky brick 3 that fell from Ayala and then a really tough, contested drive by Wiggins. That stretch and the 90 seconds at the end of the 1st half decided the game even more than the long scoring drought did.

orangejulius on February 8, 2020 @ 02:01 PM

After the Missouri game, if you had told me we'd be 8-4 in conference right now, I'd have asked for some of what you were having. Incredible job by Brad to get us to this point. This being said, we are still the team that was blown out by Arizona and lost to Missouri and Miami, and we are susceptible to poor play like we saw last night.

The auto-bench is something that needs to stop right away, especially at home. This reminds me of when managers like Dusty Baker used to routinely bunt in baseball. Younger coaches like little Pitino are way ahead on this.

What happened to the Giorgi of 2019? That Giorgi who was almost unstoppable on the block, with a myriad of post moves and incredible balance and footwork. We need that Giorgi back desperately. No more of this Giorgi.

mrmill on February 8, 2020 @ 05:37 PM

I don’t understand why this team is so bad against full court pressure. We never get easy baskets. It just ensures that we waste 12-15 seconds before we even start to get into our offense.

Bear8287 on February 9, 2020 @ 11:00 AM

Blown layups, missed free throws, unforced errors.

Good summary.

Poor finish to 2nd half at Iowa (Illinois up 62-61 with 4:00 minutes left) seemed to carry over to a poor 1st half finish against Maryland.

So, MSU comes in riding a 3-game losing streak and the Illini have dropped 2 straight. Does a Tom Izzo team that was a preseason pick to win the conference really drop 4 straight in the middle of the season?

The B1G Tourney this year should be fun.

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