A sloppy first half, a rejuvenated team and a nail-biting finish. The story is all too familiar for Maryland fans but Saturday night against Illinois was a little different.
Instead of the usual Melo Trimble takeover, though, it was Jaylen Brantley who brought back the Terps.
Brantley scored 12 points, all coming in the second half, as the Terps toppled Illinois 62-56 in the State Farm Center in Champaign.
“Jaylen Brantley really gave us a huge lift, gave us confidence,” Mark Turgeon said. “No one could make a shot for us except him, it felt like.”
A large factor in the Terps’ win was a 22-6 run over almost 10 minutes in the middle of the second half. Illinois shot 2-of-14 in the run and all of Brantley’s 12 points came during that stretch.
“I thought he was the difference maker,” Illinois head coach John Groce said of Brantley.
Melo Trimble and Anthony Cowan were so confident in Brantley that they began to call plays for him after Brantley nailed a spot-up jumper from behind the arc with a little under 15 minutes to go in the game.
“When he hit that three, I felt that the defense wasn’t really trying to focus on him as much as they were on everyone else, so I told Jaylen to be aggressive,” Trimble said. “He really changed the game in the second half.”
Turgeon said that the players were even telling him what plays to run for Brantley.
“Plays that might have been for Huerter we ran for Jaylen,” Turgeon said. “Our guys are smart enough to do that, and he was feeling it.”
Trimble said that Brantley played like this in practice a lot last year, often playing the role of the opposing team’s best player while they were preparing.
“He was really a threat in practice and we had to guard him,” Trimble said. “He’s doing the same thing this year, he’s really giving us a good look on the defensive end and it translates to the game.”
Following a steal, a buzzer-beater layup from Trimble at the end of the first half changed the momentum for the Terps, who looked flat in the first half.
“The momentum we brought into the second half from Melo’s steal was really big for us,” Cowan said.
Cowan said that play helped the Terps get the momentum needed for their huge run in the middle of the second half.
“I’m a big believer in basketball being a game of runs so we just had a big run and it was at a good time,” he said.
Brantley was just one of three Terps to score in double figures, along with guards Anthony Cowan and Melo Trimble. Cowan scored 19, with six of those coming from free throws in the last three and half minutes.
A combination of solid bench play and scoring off of turnovers helped the Terps hold on at the end. Maryland outscored Illinois 14-4 off turnovers and the Maryland reserves put up 21 points to Illinois’ six.
“[Turgeon] told us at halftime that the bench was going to need a big half for us to win this game,” Brantley said.
Trimble finished with 12 but couldn’t take the lid off the basket in the first half, going 2-of-7 from deep. Despite his shooting struggles, Trimble said he is still confident in himself and the team.
“The biggest thing about this team, we never worry about the last play. We just try to move on,” he said. “We’re going to shoot threes, and we’re going to shoot to make them.”
The three guards also made up for center Michal Cekovsky’s absence by cleaning up the boards, each recording five or more rebounds. Anthony Cowan credited the big men for boxing out well.
“Our bigs were battling down there and they gave us easy chances to get rebounds,” he said.
Maryland shot poorly from deep in the first half, going 3-of-13, just 23 percent, from behind the arc. Yet the Terps only trailed 32-27 at the break thanks to stellar team defense.
Despite the improved shooting percentage in the second half, the Terps struggled from the charity stripe, shooting just 10-of-20 from the line.
The Terps improved their record to 16-2, while the Fighting Illini dropped to 12-6.
“It wasn’t a pretty game at all. Neither team could really make a shot,” Turgeon said. “It was two really good defensive teams, and we just kind of rode Jaylen in the second half.”
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