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Terps

No. 22 Maryland men’s basketball holds off No. 16 Illinois, 71-66, behind Jahmir Young to stay unbeaten

COLLEGE PARK — In the second half of Friday night’s game against No. 16 Illinois, No. 22 Maryland men’s basketball found itself in uncharted waters.

After leading nearly the entire game, the Terps allowed a 3-pointer by Fighting Illini freshman guard Skyy Clark that tied the score at 62 with 3:39 to play. It continued a 17-5 run for Illinois, putting Maryland’s resiliency to the test in front of its largest home crowd of the season.

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The Terps didn’t falter. Transfer guard Jahmir Young hit a 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining and Maryland held off Illinois, 71-66, to remain unbeaten and give first-year coach Kevin Willard the victory in his first Big Ten game.

Young’s clutch shot capped a breathtaking performance, as the former Charlotte and DeMatha star scored 24 points on 9-for-20 shooting. Senior Hakim Hart finished with 17 points and forward Donta Scott added 12 as Maryland (8-0, 1-0 Big Ten) shot 44.4% from the field and went 9-for-23 from the 3-point line.

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“I felt like we made a huge statement,” Young said. “We don’t want to lose.”

Maryland guard Jahmir Young reacts after hitting a 3-pointer during the first half of Friday's game in College Park.

If there were any doubts about Young’s ability to handle conference play, he silenced them against Illinois. Look no further than the dagger in the final seconds that put the Terps up four.

Maryland’s original play was broken up, so Young had to make a quick adjustment. He received a handoff from Hart before dribbling around a screen set by sophomore forward Julian Reese and rising up to bury a 3-pointer over a defender, setting off a raucous celebration.

“It was an unbelievable feeling,” Young said. “To make that shot was a dream come true.”

Young’s performance served as a perfect depiction of Maryland’s grittiness, which will be needed during a tough stretch that continues against No. 13 Tennessee and No. 21 UCLA after a road game vs. Wisconsin.

Maryland caught Illinois off guard with its full-court pressure and fast-paced offense in the first half. But when the Fighting Illini finally found their rhythm, erasing an 11-point lead in the second half, the Terps displayed a special kind of resiliency.

Maryland was able to withstand a strong performance from Illinois guard Terrence Shannon Jr., who finished with 19 points and seven rebounds despite suffering a cut above his right eye during a collision with Reese in the second half. Forward Coleman Hawkins tallied 16 points and seven rebounds, helping lead the second-half surge.

Maryland forward Donta Scott, right, shoots over Illinois forward Coleman Hawkins during the first half of Friday's game in College Park.

Illinois went on a 9-0 run to cut Maryland’s lead to 55-54, but Scott responded with a jumper to put the Terps back up by three. After Illinois tied the game at 57, Maryland scored five unanswered points.

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“These guys kept fighting and fighting,” Willard said.

The day before Maryland’s Big Ten opener, Willard admitted he was nervous. In the Terps’ first four home games of the season, they played in front of crowds that resembled high school basketball games. Xfinity Center was practically empty 75 minutes before tip-off, and when the games started, the wall was barely filled.

Friday night was different. Maryland played inspiring basketball during its 7-0 start, and in return, fans and students flocked to Xfinity Center, with an announced crowd of 16,380 filling every inch of the arena. The atmosphere was the perfect reward for the Terps’ early success, but Willard wasn’t sure how the team would react in front of a big crowd.

“We’ve played really hard but in an empty building,” Willard said earlier this week. “I am a little tempered just to make sure that we don’t gas ourselves out in front of a great crowd.”

Willard praised the Terps’ unbothered attitude, as they never let the early-season success faze them. Against Illinois, their even-keeled approach was on display in the opening minutes.

Maryland guard Hakim Hart reacts after an Illinois turnover during the second half of Friday's game in College Park.

Young kicked things off with a 3-pointer, but Hawkins quickly responded with an outside shot of his own. The teams traded baskets before Hawkins and Shannon each converted layups to give Illinois (6-2, 0-1) a 14-11 advantage.

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Suddenly, the energy shifted. Hart scored eight straight points before Young’s second 3-pointer of the night gave Maryland an eight-point advantage. The Terps embarked on a commanding 17-2 run to take a 28-16 lead with 8:09 to go in the first half.

However, Illinois didn’t crumble like the other teams Maryland had faced, going on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to three. The Terps responded, as Hart knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to put Maryland up 34-25 with less than five minutes left in the half.

The Terps received a much-deserved standing ovation after taking a 41-34 lead into halftime.

“In the first half, I felt like we made a lot of mistakes,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “We let Hakim get a couple of looks on [3-pointers] and Maryland was electric in transition.”

To prevent Maryland from taking over in the second half, Illinois picked up its intensity and started attacking the rim. The Fighting Illini outscored the Terps 22-12 in the paint, with Shannon’s one-handed dunk serving as a clear reminder of who was the best player on the floor.

“If I was an NBA general manager, I would be drafting that dude,” Willard said of Shannon, who scored 11 points in the second half. “I didn’t think he was that big until he walked by me during warmups.”

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Illinois guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (0) goes to the basket for a layup between two Maryland defenders during the first half.

As the Fighting Illini offense found its rhythm, the defense picked up its intensity. Illinois held Maryland to 36.4% shooting in the second half and prevented the Terps from getting out in transition.

“I thought their defense was phenomenal,” Willard said. “They started switching and getting physical.”

Underwood thought Illinois played well enough to win, but he left impressed by Maryland’s attention to detail and how the Terps defended on the perimeter.

“This is a very good Maryland team and tonight they were a little better than us,” Underwood said.

When Willard took the job in March, he wanted to bring Maryland back to a championship level and create an atmosphere that resembled the top programs in the nation.

“That’s what [athletic director] Damon [Evans] talked about,” Willard said. “If you look at Kansas and Kentucky, they have a crowd like that every night. If we get that every night, we are going to win more games.”

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Willard knew his team had potential, but he didn’t think 8-0 was a possibility. His main goal this year was to show the DMV the type of program he’s trying to build in College Park.

On Friday night, Maryland didn’t shy away from the moment. Instead, the Terps showed they could be Big Ten contenders as soon as this season.

“I think everyone got a glimpse of what this program is right now and what it’s going to be in the future,” Willard said. “I think that’s really cool.”

No. 22 Maryland at Wisconsin

Tuesday, 9 p.m.

TV: ESPN2

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Radio: 105.7 FM


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