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Illinois uses strong second half to send No. 13 Maryland to second straight defeat

NEW YORK — Maryland fans who poured into Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon had seemingly moved past last year’s disappointing loss to Wisconsin in the second round of the Big Ten tournament.

Midway through the first half against Illinois, the No. 13 Terps led by 10. With 4½ minutes remaining in the half, Maryland was still up 11 and the fans who made up the overwhelming majority of the intimate announced crowd of 7,239 were enjoying themselves.

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In a New York minute, the mood and the game — an eventual 78-67 Illinois win — changed.

The lead evaporated, down to four points by halftime, and was gone entirely after a flurry of Maryland turnovers and Illinois 3-point shots early in the second half. While the Terps regained the lead to go up by five with 9:49 to go, they never recaptured the momentum.

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With a 26-10 closing run, an Illinois team that had lost its first five Big Ten games and seven of its eight this season stunned Maryland (16-5, 7-3 Big Ten). It was the second straight defeat for the Terps after a seven-game winning streak propelled them into the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in two years.

No. 13 Maryland lost most of its 11-point lead by halftime, then got outscored 26-10 down the stretch to lose to Illinois, 78-67, at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

“Obviously that’s not the afternoon we wanted,” said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, whose frustration boiled over when he was called for a technical foul in the final minute. “We wanted a different outcome. I thought our fans were terrific showing up. I thought that was great.

“We weren’t very good, especially when the game was on the line [with] turnovers. I thought what really hurt us for the second game in a row was transition defense. It was a whole halftime speech and we gave up three wide-open 3s to start the second half. It gave them a lot of confidence.”

Sophomore center Bruno Fernando led Maryland with 19 points and 10 rebounds, but with the Terps hanging on to a 59-58 lead, he missed the front end of a one-and-one and then a wide-open layup. Freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu led Illinois (6-14, 2-7) with 20 points and six assists.

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For the second straight game, the Terps finished the first half poorly.

In Monday’s 69-55 loss at No. 6 Michigan State, Maryland was outscored 11-0 after coming back from an early 12-point deficit to tie the game at 20. On Saturday, the Terps didn’t score a field goal in the last 5:35 of the first half and saw Illinois go to its dressing room knowing it was back in the game.

“We were cruising a little bit, feeling good about ourselves,” Turgeon said. “I told the guys, ‘We’re in good shape, up four, and we’ll build it again.’ We built it to eight [38-30] and all of a sudden we’re down two [42-40] because we decided not to run back [on defense]. … We just weren’t very good when we needed to be good, and they were. They were terrific.”

The Maryland men's team will be part of a Big Ten basketball-hockey doubleheader at New York's Madison Square Garden when the No. 13 Terps play Saturday against Illinois at noon.

Aside from the way his team allowed Illinois back in the game late in the first half, there was a stretch in the second half that Turgeon said decided the outcome. It came after the Terps took a 59-56 lead on alley-oop dunk by Fernando with 6:53 to go. It broke a scoring drought of just under three minutes for Maryland.

“I thought we were on 57 forever. That usually happens,” Turgeon said. “Then we got a three-point lead on the lob out of bounds and I felt pretty good. It’s kind of who we are. But usually we can at least get a shot or something or figure out how to get to the foul line. We didn’t do that today. We shot it quick or turned it over. That was really the game.”

Second-year Illinois coach Brad Underwood said the last stretch of the first half was crucial to his team’s victory.

“Cutting it back to four from 11 gave us a locker room that was excited to go play the second half, and confident in the second half,” said Underwood, whose team had lost its previous eight games against Top 25 teams, including four this season, since he came to Champaign, Ill., from Oklahoma State.

Along with bursts of 3-point shooting by the Fighting Illini, Maryland was often hurt by its own careless execution. Committing a season-high 21 turnovers — 13 off steals and resulting in 27 points for Illinois — the Terps also seemed confused by their opponent changing defenses, including a box-and-one on junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr.

“I thought we made a couple of errors that allowed them to get going a little bit,” said Cowan, who finished with 18 points, but didn’t score during the nine-minute stretch when Illinois took control of the game. “I think it’s just on us. … I just felt we went on little runs, and we just let them right back in the game, making simple errors that we can’t make. … Especially in a league like the Big Ten, where everybody’s good, you can’t make those errors.”

Freshmen get outplayed

As much as Maryland’s freshmen have helped the Terps to their fast start this season, the group was outplayed Saturday by its counterparts from Illinois. Along with Dosunmu, shooting guard Tevian Jones scored 18 off the bench.

Maryland's loss to No. 6 Michigan State ended a seven-game winning streak for the No. 13 Terps, but they remain on the heels of the Spartans and No. 5 Michigan nearly halfway through the Big Ten season.

Forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) seemed to put his shaky performance at Michigan State behind him, scoring Maryland’s first seven points and getting five early rebounds. He finished with 11 points and seven rebounds.

Shooting guard Serrel Smith Jr. had a good sequence in the first half, hitting two free throws and then scoring in the lane on back-to-back-possessions to help the Terps build an early 18-9 lead, but struggled at both ends for much of his 20 minutes.

Wing Aaron Wiggins hit a 3-pointer in each half and finished with eight points, but he also had three turnovers.

The other two Terps freshmen also struggled mightily. Forward Ricky Lindo Jr. got two quick fouls in the first half and was never a factor. Point guard Eric Ayala had his worst game of the season, missing all three shots he tried and failing to score for only the second time while also tying a career high with five turnovers.

Tough road ahead

While the loss didn’t end Maryland’s season, as last year’s proved to, it did raise some red flags as the Terps head toward their most critical juncture, starting Tuesday at home against Northwestern. Maryland follows that with four of five on the road.

Asked how to prevent the team from going into a second-half slide for the third time in four years, Fernando said, “We’ve got to get back to who we are. I think we’ve got to get back to playing with that hunger that we started with on the season, to keep doing what we do. I think we’ve got to keep playing Maryland basketball.”

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