Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Donta Scott lifts Maryland men’s basketball over No. 17 Illinois, 81-65

Leading by twelve and looking to close out the Illini as the Terps searched for late points, Donta Scott ripped down a defensive rebound.

Scott pushed the ball up the floor, setting up a pair of Hakim Hart free throws to cap off a dominant second half.

It was a career night for Scott, who finished with 25 points and six rebounds, as Maryland men’s basketball put Tuesday’s ugly loss behind it against Illinois, 81-65.

“This was a high quality Big Ten game,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “A lot of lead changes, when you look at the box score, both teams led for a considerable amount of time throughout the course of the ball game. For us, it was a complete team win.”

Both teams managed to come out of the gates firing, combining to go 7-8 to start the contest.

After being replaced in the starting lineup by Simon Wright, Scott checked in and got off to a hot start, connecting on a pair of baskets to start the first half.

As both sides jockeyed for an advantage, the lead changed hands eight times and was tied six different times in the first half. 

With Kofi Cockburn missing the game due to a concussion, Qudus Wahab had his way for spurts on the inside, adding eight points on 4-6 first half shooting. 

As the half waned down, neither side could establish a firm grasp on the lead. Hakim Hart ripped away a steal and slammed it down on the other end in what would be the last points of a back-and-forth first half.

At the break, Maryland led, 37-35.

The Terps’ slim advantage didn’t last long, as Alphonso Plummer drained his fifth three pointer of the game just moments into the second half, putting the Illini back in front. Wahab continued his strong play on the inside, garnering a foul after connecting on a shot inside the paint, as Maryland went back up by two.

Then, Illinois put together a run. 

Trent Frazier started things off, lining up a three in transition to pull Illinois back in front. A stop on the defensive end set up another jumper for Frazier, followed by Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk’s layup just one possession later. In about a minute and a half, Illinois turned a two-point deficit into a five point advantage.

Despite hot shooting from the Illini to begin the second half, Maryland was able to battle back. 

After another three pointer, this time from Jacob Grandison, Donta Scott pulled the Terps back even. First, he collected an offensive rebound and finished the play in the paint, cutting the lead to two. On the defensive end, Scott collected the rebound and fed a streaking Fatts Russell, who soared to the rim and layed it in, tying the game at 51.

The Illini again built a slim lead following the tie, but once again, Maryland fought back. Only this time, they took the lead. 

Trailing by a basket, Julian Reese lined up a three point shot that fell, putting Maryland up by one. When Illinois took the lead back, he found a back-cutting Eric Ayala, who finished the layup and gave Maryland the lead, 59-58.

In the ensuing minutes, Scott gave Maryland some breathing room.

The six-foot-eight forward scored 13 of his game high 25 points following Ayala’s go ahead layup, keeping Illinois at a distance.  

“Donta is a terrific basketball player and his skillset allows him to do a lot of different things out on the court,” Manning said. “I think this type of game for him, is what we would like to see.

Illinois didn’t go away quietly, but Maryland used a strong defensive effort, along with Scott’s dominance on the offensive end to stay in front the rest of the way. 

A dominant result at home was a breath of fresh air for the Terps, who moved above .500 with the win and grabbed their second victory in conference play. For a team holding on to what is best described as slim NCAA Tournament hopes, Friday’s win was a step in the right direction, led by Scott.

“I liked the fight a lot,” Scott said. “Last game, we fell a little short. Guys just stepped up to the plate and did things that maybe we [weren’t] doing last game. They said, this game we’re gonna get it done. So, I’m really happy and I appreciate the guys for just being there and stepping up to the plate.”