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Three takeaways from No. 3 Maryland basketball’s 59-58 win over Illinois

If Maryland had finished better around the rim, the Terps wouldn’t have had to overcome a 15-point deficit to win. Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s victory over the Fighting Illini at Xfinity Center.

Without a true back-to-the-basket big man, Maryland could struggle at times to score.

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As much as sophomore Jalen Smith has improved and has become a consistent contributor at both ends of the floor, he is still more "Stix” than the nickname coach Mark Turgeon jokingly bestowed on the 6-foot-10, 225-pound forward before the season: “Logs”.

While Smith took over the game down the stretch on the defensive side Saturday, helped by the second-half foul trouble on 7-foot, 290-pound freshman Kofi Cockburn, the most important basket Smith made during his team’s comeback was a 3-pointer.

Turgeon even acknowledged after the game that with the start of Big Ten play — Maryland travels Tuesday to Penn State, a team with a couple of strong inside players in Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins — the Terps have to start finding ways to score in the post, and defend there too.

“We’ve got to get a post-up game. We have no post-up game,” Turgeon said. ”Last year, we played through Bruno [Fernando] the whole year and now it’s like jacking 3s up the whole game. We’ve got to figure out how to be a little bit better offensively.”

Said Smith: “There’s no excuse for not finishing layups. We’ve just got to continue to work on that and make sure that we are finishing them because layups count and we don’t want it [missing them] to hurt us in the end.”

Given that Turgeon shortened his bench so that he essentially went with six players in crunch time, the only true physical presence the Terps had was 6-7, 225-pound freshman Donta Scott, who along with junior guard Darryl Morsell scored inside while absorbing some contact.

The lack of size can also be problematic at the defensive end. If not for Cockburn’s foul trouble, which began when he was called for two quick fouls to start the second half after getting just one in the first half, it seemed doubtful that the Terps could have done much in the paint.

“We’ve got to figure it out,” Turgeon said. “That’s why I started that lineup [with freshman Makhi Mitchell playing center] because we had to figure out how to play outside that [small] lineup. But Darryl has been able to guard everybody 1 through 5, and today he wasn’t as successful with that.”

The Terps are still finding a bench.

Turgeon went into the season hoping to not play his top six players as much as he has been forced to do in recent seasons. While the disparity in talent between the top six and the other players might not be as great as it has been the past few years, the fact that four of those coming off the bench are freshmen makes it more difficult for Turgeon to substitute.

That happened in the second half of Maryland’s seven-point wins over Harvard and Temple in the Orlando Invitational, and it happened again Saturday.

Scott started the second half in place of sophomore guard Eric Ayala and he was the only freshman to get much of a run, playing 27 minutes. Even though Turgeon said before the game that sophomore forward Ricky Lindo Jr. had practiced well after playing just two minutes in the first half against Notre Dame, Lindo played just three minutes in the first half and sat the entire second half.

It’s not just with the frontcourt. While acknowledging that sophomore guard Serrel Smith Jr. “made the best play of the game” — a pass to Ayala for a 3-pointer — he was in for three minutes the entire night as Cowan played 40 minutes for the first time this year and only the second time in the past two seasons.

Asked how much of a concern it is that the Terps got only two points from their bench — a late, important layup by Scott — Turgeon said brusquely: “It’s a concern. We weren’t very good today. Our bench has been good. I was afraid to play guys, we were playing uphill the whole game ... We’ve got to get some young guys playing a little better.”

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The players on both teams weren’t the only ones inconsistent in their performance.

Though Turgeon and Illinois coach Brad Underwood could have complained about the officiating Saturday, neither did. Turgeon learned the hard way last year when he got a technical in Maryland’s loss to the Fighting Illini at Madison Square Garden. His team seemed to get called for a lot of fouls after his remarks to the refs — which were picked up on a sidecourt microphone — about the poor job he thought they did.

Most highly ranked teams playing at home against an unranked opponent, even one from the same conference, typically get the benefit of a few calls right at the start. That wasn’t the case for the Terps, who should have realized right away that wasn’t going to happen when Morsell was called for an arm bar trying to defend 6-9, 235-pound forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili on Illinois’ first possession.

The Terps didn’t help their case by committing some obvious charging fouls and not playing with the same defensive soundness they had for most of the season, using their hands more than their feet. But several calls against Maryland appeared, at least on replay, to be incorrect, including an offensive foul on Aaron Wiggins when it looked like the defender was still moving.

That changed in the second half, early on when Cockburn picked up those two quick fouls and especially late, when the Terps seemed to be getting the bulk of the favorable whistles. The one exception came late in the game when Ayala was bumped off the ball momentarily by Bezhanishvili, who had four fouls at the time. If anything, Underwood might have had a better case in the way the calls impacted the outcome.

Turgeon even credited the announced crowd of nearly 17,000 for helping him in that regard.

“Our defense was terrific the second half and they [the fans] were into every play and every possession, and were getting on the refs for me,” Turgeon said.

No. 3 Maryland@Penn State

Tuesday, 7 p.m.

TV: ESPN2

Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM

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