Minutes after Maryland lost its Big Ten opener to Purdue, head coach Mark Turgeon applauded his team’s effort to be in a position to win at the end, but said his team needed to play better in close-game situations.
Turgeon can be proud of his team for doing both Sunday night, because the Terps are back to winning, and found a way to win in a close game for the first time in two weeks.
After holding a double-digit lead for the majority of the game, the Terps held off the surging Illinois Illini in an overtime thriller, 92-91.
Maryland outlasted the Illini, who battled back from back from playing behind all night, to claim its first win in more than a week and its first conference win of the year. It was the first single-digit game the team had won since fighting back to beat Bucknell on Nov. 18.
Maryland committed a season-high 25 turnovers against the Illini. It didn’t matter, though, because the Terps’ shots were finding their mark early and often. The team rebounded from one of its worst shooting performances of the year against Purdue to scoring 90-plus points for the second time this season.
Once again, sophomore point guard Anthony Cowan was back to his old self, leading all scorers with 27 points and six assists. Cowan helped the Terps shoot 35-59 for 59.3 percent.
Maryland’s game against the Illini also featured the return of Justin Jackson’s offensive efficiency. Jackson, who was limited to just five points against Purdue, had 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Jackson also grabbed six rebounds and had a pair of blocks.
Along with Kevin Huerter, the trio of Jackson, Cowan and Huerter scored 64 of Maryland’s 92 points.
The Terps started with a 10-0 run, and they held that dominance for the entire first half. Maryland led by as many as 22 points. By halftime, Cowan already had 16 points, and after the two teams exchanged a pair of layups in the final minute, Maryland had a 45-26 lead.
Still, Illinois’s shots started to fall in the second half, and the Illini slowly began to chip away at Maryland’s lead.
With 10 minutes left in regulation, the Illini started to break through. A 7-0 run highlighted by a three from Aaron Jordan brought Maryland’s lead down to single digits for the first time since the start of the game. And for the next six minutes, Illinois outscored Maryland 15-6.
A pair of free throws from Jordan tied the score, 69-69.
With 17 seconds left, Illinois took 75-73 lead, and it looked as if Maryland was going to drop its third consecutive close game. But an Illinois turnover led to a buzzer-beating tip-in from Bruno Fernando after a missed 3-pointer to tie the game again, 75-75.
Maryland found itself tied with Illinois again in the final seconds of overtime after a layup from Mark Alstork pulled the score even, 91-91. But on Maryland’s following possession, Alstork fouled Cowan with one second left. Cowan drained a free throw, ending the game with his team on top.
Alstork finished with 17 points for the Illini, while Jordan had 15 points on four shots. Leron Black led the team in scoring with 18 points and five rebounds.
Maryland will be back at the Xfinity Center on Dec. 7 to face Ohio in the first of a six-game home stand for the Terps. Tipoff will be at 7 p.m.