New York — Illinois’ players and coaches jogged through a mob of outstretched hands on their way off the Madison Square Garden court, basking in the smiles and shouts of congratulations.
This victory on that stage? Nothing wrong with letting that sink in.
“That was a great character win for our basketball team,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said after the Fighting Illini beat No. 13 Maryland 78-67 on Saturday.
“Yeah, we executed – we made some shots – but to me it’s a lot more about perseverance and showing up and competing. We did that today and we were fortunate to beat a very good basketball team.”
Ayo Dosunmu scored 20 points to help the Fighting Illini (6-14, 2-7 Big Ten) snap a two-game skid by handing the Terrapins their second straight conference loss. Tevian Jones had 18 points, and Andres Feliz had 15.
While Illinois was reveling in its accomplishment, the Terrapins were collectively talking about the need to improve the details of their game.
“It was a matter of us doing the little things,” said Bruno Fernando, who led Maryland (16-5, 7-3) with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Anthony Cowan Jr. had 18 points and Jalen Smith had 11.
“Things coach keeps emphasizing like boxing out and rebounding,” Fernando added. “I think we gave them lot of chances on the boards and second-chance points.”
The Terrapins led by 11 during the first half, but Illinois pulled within 34-30 at the break after Dosunmu scored all the Illini’s points on a 9-2 run. That was the beginning of the end for Maryland.
“We were cruising a little bit and feeling good about ourselves,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “We just weren’t very good when we needed to be good, and they were. They were terrific when they needed to be.”
Illinois hit four 3-pointers in a span of 1:27 early in the second half – including two by Trent Frazier – to take a 42-40 lead. Maryland ran off seven straight points, Illinois countered with six consecutive to regain the lead, then Maryland used a 10-4 run for a 57-52 advantage.
Illinois responded with a 10-2 spurt, capped by Jones’ fourth 3 of the game with 4:49 left, and the Illini kept their poise from there. Feliz made five free throws and Dosunmu had a fast-break layup and hit two other layups to extend the lead to 72-63.
“It’s huge,” said Underwood, when asked about his team’s lead management. “It’s guys finally stepping up and making plays, making free throws. Guys wanting the ball and then playing with a conscious effort.
“For us to manage that and pull away, especially come from 11 down early means a lot.”
More Big Ten
Ohio State 70, (at) Nebraska 60: Luther Muhammad scored 18 of his career-high 24 points in the second half, and Ohio State ended its longest losing streak in 21 years with a win over struggling Nebraska.
Muhammad made three 3-pointers in the middle of the second half to spark a 20-5 run that propelled the Buckeyes (13-6, 3-5 Big Ten) to their first win in six games.
James Palmer and Glynn Watson Jr. combined for 37 points to lead the Cornhuskers (13-7, 3-6), who have lost three straight games and five of seven. Nebraska played without Isaac Copeland for all but a minute of the second half after he landed awkwardly when colliding with an Ohio State player under the basket.
Ohio State started breaking open the game after Nebraska took its last lead, 38-36. The Buckeyes badly beat the Huskers on the boards, 45-31 overall and 14-7 on the offensive end. Disgruntled fans gave a sarcastic cheer when Nebraska got a long rebound of a missed Ohio State 3-pointer with about 6½ minutes left. A good number of them walked out at the next timeout.
Nebraska went 6:19 without a field goal in the second half against Ohio State’s 2-3 zone and without Copeland on the floor.
C.J. Jackson and Andre Wesson scored 10 points apiece for the Buckeyes, and Kaleb Wesson had 11 rebounds to go with his seven points.
Palmer had 19 points and Watson had 18 for the Huskers, who shot 36.2 percent from the field.
(At) Wisconsin 62, Northwestern 46: Ethan Happ registered his second triple-double of the season,
Happ finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for Wisconsin (14-6, 6-3 Big Ten). D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison added 18 points apiece.
Meanwhile, Northwestern (12-8, 3-6) turned in its worst shooting performance of the season, hitting just 30 percent from the field. That included 7 of 30 in the second half (23 percent).
Wisconsin took control of the game with a 19-2 run that wrapped around the end of the first half and beginning of the second. It began as Wisconsin hit six of its last seven shots of the first half to end the period on a 14-2 run.
The Wildcats then missed their first six from the field in the second half as the Badgers pushed their lead to 39-24 on Nate Reuvers’ three-point play.
The Wisconsin lead didn’t dip below double figures the rest of the game.
Vic Law came into the game as Northwestern’s leading scorer at better than 16 points per game. But he was 2 of 11 from the field and finished with six points. Anthony Gaines and Dererk Pardon led the Wildcats with eight points each.
Rutgers 64, (at) Penn State 60: Geo Baker scored 20 points and the Scarlet Knights (10-9, 3-6 Big Ten) beat Penn State to put a three-game cushion between themselves and the conference cellar where they’ve finished every season since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
That was the case for much of the second half when Rutgers controlled the latter portion of the game, taking the lead for good on a 3-pointer from Baker that made it 57-53 with 3:26 to play.
The Nittany Lions (7-13, 0-9) pulled within a point less than two minutes later on a layup from Mike Watkins but wouldn’t get any closer as the Scarlet Knights shot 6 of 7 from the free-throw line.
Eugene Omoruyi and Montez Mathis chipped in 11 points apiece, and Shaq Carter pulled down a team-best seven rebounds for the Scarlet Knights, who won their second in a row.
Lamar Stevens scored 21 points while Myles Dread and Rasir Bolton each added 11 for the Nittany Lions, who lost their seventh in a row. Bolton missed a potential tying 3-pointer with less than a second left.