CHAMPAIGN, ILL. — History awaited 11th-ranked Maryland here at the State Farm Center. A victory over an Illinois team that had lost its first two Big Ten games and then star guard Rayvonte Rice to a broken hand at practice Monday would have given this year's Terps the best start of any Maryland team.
After passing so many tests in what has been a turnaround season for Mark Turgeon's program, Maryland flunked history Wednesday night. Leading at halftime by two points, the Terps went as cold as the frigid temperatures outside, losing to the Fighting Illini, 64-57.
"The first possession we got two layups and miss them, and it got worse from there," said Turgeon, whose team saw its seven-game winning streak snapped with its first Big Ten loss. "Next time we turn it over on a break and we just never recovered."
Asked if the Terps were playing tight given the attention they've received recently, junior forward Jake Layman said: "I think it was not being focused coming out in the second half. Not that we felt comfortable with a two-point lead, but we kind of felt that there was no way we could lose this with the lead going into half."
A 20-3 run by Illinois (11-5, 1-2) revved up an announced home crowd of 12,896 that braved temperatures dipping to a reported 30 degrees below with the wind chill. It also rattled the Terps, who lost for the first time in more than a month. Maryland (14-2, 2-1) will remain on the road, playing at Purdue on Saturday.
"First of all, let's give Illinois a lot of credit, I thought they were terrific tonight, John [Groce] had them ready," Turgeon said. "They made the switch at point guard, [Jaylon] Tate was terrific running the team. And of course, we had no one to match up with [Malcolm] Hill. He was really good."
Hill, a 6-foot-7 sophomore forward who had only one previous game with 20 points or more, took over for the injured Rice and took over the game, too, early in the second half. Hill finished with a career-high 28 points, including 18 in the second half. He hit 9 of 18 shots, including 4 of 7 3-pointers.
"I challenged my guys at halftime to guard him and of course they didn't do that in the second half," Turgeon said. "We let our offense affect our defense. Give them credit, their defense was really good, switching [from a zone to a man-to-man]. They made it tough on us. We never really got in rhythm until it was too late."
Freshman point guard Melo Trimble led the Terps with 17 points, five rebounds and four assists. After helping Maryland to a 28-26 halftime lead by scoring nine points – including a pretty teardrop floater for the team's final basket – Trimble didn't score again until the final minute.
A late run led by Trimble and fellow freshman Dion Wiley (9 points) helped close a 16-point deficit to five, 60-55, with 24 seconds to go and might have made the final score a bit more palatable for Turgeon and the Terps. It didn't obscure how poorly some of Maryland's seniors played.
Dez Wells scored just six points on 2 of 8 shooting, the last an off-balance airball that led to Turgeon pulling him with a little three minutes to go. Evan Smotrycz was 0-for-6 from the field. The normally-reliable Richaud Pack was 1-for-7, though he did contribute five rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot.
"I'm not sure what to attribute it to, I think it was just we didn't have it today, it was a today thing," said Pack, who along with Layman were the only players Maryland made available to the media. "We've been pretty humble about what people have been saying about us. We just need to practice harder, get locked in more and be ready to go Saturday."
Said Turgeon: "I love my seniors, they just did not have a good night. They were pressing, trying to to do too much."
Turgeon didn't want to think his players got caught up in the hype that accompanied the hot start, yet he knew it was a possibility.
"Obviously by the way we played we've been listening to everybody telling us how good we are," Turgeon said. "After the Minnesota game, we said we can't do that. So maybe that came in [to play], We're kids. We're human. I don't like to lose, but maybe we needed this. We'll see. Purdue is not going to be easy."
As for a missed chance to make history, Layman said he didn't even know a victory would have given the Terps their best start in history. It could have also been the first 3-0 start in league play since the 2001-2002 team – the one that ended with a national championship – won its first three Atlantic Coast Conference games.
"I'm sure most of the guys didn't know that," said Layman, who finished with 10 points despite missing much of the first half after picking up two fouls in the first 1:10. "That's something, even if you hear about it, you can't focus on it. It would have been a big accomplishment, but so what. We haven't done anything else."