Illinois(12-6, 2-3) came into this game against Maryland(16-2, 4-1) with tons of momentum after Wednesday’s impressive win against Michigan.  That momentum carried them through the first half of today’s game, but Illinois couldn’t keep the magic going as a brutal second half offense and mediocre defensive in the final 20 minutes doomed them.

The game featured an incredibly promising start. Maryland was 1-8 from three-point territory, they weren’t dribble driving to the rim, and Illinois was getting shots to fall. Illinois built up an 11 point lead thanks to Leron’s 11 and Mav and Hill’s 9 each in the first half. 

The first half was fun. It looked like a replica of parts of the Michigan game. A close game early, opponents start to miss shots and Illinois takes advantage and builds up a double-digit first half lead. 

The first half wasn’t without its mistakes for Illinois though. 7 turnovers in the half including a pick-pocketing of Malcolm Hill and a Melo Trimble layup as time expired in the first half cut the lead to five going into the locker room. 

In the second half, Maryland proved why they belong near the top of the Big Ten. 

A nearly 8-minute scoring drought paired with a Maryland offense that was starting to find their groove did Illinois in. Illinois began letting Maryland take advantage of them on the dribble drive, and their offensive weapons were flowing through the paint, slicing through the defense in ways that were difficult to watch.

Illinois took some rushed shots but had plenty of open ones in the second half. They just couldn’t get them to fall. Some days you shoot 64% from the field (Michigan), and some days you miss open shot after open shot(Today). That’s basketball. 

Player notes:

Tracy: Another game, another recap in which the only thing I can say about Tracy is that he has regressed yet some more after playing so outstanding during the non-conference schedule. In 22 minutes Tracy went 0-3 from the floor with two rebounds, two assists, two turnovers, and four fouls. He has regressed to the point where his offensive efficiency has equaled that of Jaylon Tate. He also struggled to keep the athletic Maryland guards in front of him, letting them continuously drive to the hoop, or simply fouling them. Tracy has worked harder than any student-athlete the last two years and has faced more adversity than anyone; I feel sorry for him that conference play has been so lopsided for him. I hope he can get back to making an impact for this team.

Malcolm: Malcolm put up only 11 on 5-14 shooting, including only 1-6 from beyond the arc. I would love to see Malcolm drive instead of putting up a jump shots when the team hasn’t scored in eight minutes. There were two instances in the game where Hill went up for the jumper, saw the Maryland defender try to block it, and Malcolm leaned in trying to get the contact. Both shots were a no-call, and both shots were wildly off. I’d prefer for Illinois’ leading scorer to get some more penetration to the rim going. Your best player should be getting to the line, and Malcolm didn’t attempt a single free throw today. 

JCL: Jalen-Coleman Lands showed why he is Illinois’ X-factor, and that when he struggles, as does the team. Nine points on 3-11 shooting from range. JCL still doesn’t have great dribble-drive moves, and so Illinois relies on him as the team’s top three-point shooter. Neither team shot the 3-ball particularly well today, but it seemed like down the stretch JCL was taking 3 after 3 and none of them were falling. 

Te’jon: I didn’t expect Te’jon Lucas to have the type of performance today as he did against Michigan, a clearly inferior opponent compared to Maryland, especially when it comes to guard play. Te’jon still proved that he has elite vision as a passer (four assists to one turnover), but his ability to play defense against Big Ten guards will need to continue to develop. I didn’t expect him to necessarily play that well defensively against Maryland, as his youth and inexperience caught up with him today on defense. This is something I can live with, as there’s no doubt he will continue to learn and develop his defense. 

Leron: I liked first half Leron, second half, not so much. Leron put up buckets in the first half and played tough. In the second half as Illinois started to spoil the lead, Leron took some off balanced, fade away, ill-advised shots. Leron’s mid-range jumper is one of the most valuable assets on the team, but it has to be under the right circumstances. 

What I loved: Illinois fans are feeling pretty somber after this one, but we lost to a top B1G team by six. There are no moral victories in this conference, but Illinois hung in there despite blowing a double-digit lead. Even when Illinois was down 10 late in the second half, they battled hard to cut the lead and make it a competitive game until the end. I won’t question Illinois’ effort today, it was there for 40 minutes.

What I hated: Illinois struggles when they are put under pressure. Once the comeback was on for Maryland, it seemed as though all we could do was watch it unfold before our eyes. Illinois is going to play in more close games this season; it’s the nature of this conference, particularly this year. They’re going to have to do a better job of responding to when other teams open up leads on them, just as Maryland did to them today.

Overall: This one hurts, no doubt. Lots of momentum, home game, up double digits. That straight-up hurts when a team like Maryland does this to you. With this loss, Illinois is probably going to need to win every remaining home game which is tough considering teams like Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan State are coming to town. They’re going to have to win 1-2 games on the road as well, which, as I talked about in previous pieces, is a serious task for Illinois. 

Illinois can build off of what happened today, despite the outcome. The progress they showed against Michigan isn’t all for not, but they need to show that they can put up a victory against an NCAA team. They haven’t done that yet. 

Up Next: Illinois will travel to West Lafayette to face a tough Purdue(14-4, 3-2) team this Tuesday at 6PM. 

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