Heart, ache

Heart, ache

CHAMPAIGN — Illinois looked well on its way to finishing this pivotal week in the first month of the season with three straight losses when Maryland turned a 10-0 start into a 19-point halftime lead it stretched to 22 points early in the second half.

Then the Illini rallied. Started making shots. And getting stops that weren't coming in the first half as the Terrapins ran an offense that basically amounted to a layup line.

The final narrative, though, remained familiar.

Illinois turned Maryland turnovers in the final minutes into nothing at the other end. More of those self-inflicted mistakes that sank the Illini at Wake Forest and against Northwestern cropped up again.

A second overtime game in the opening Big Ten weekend turned into a second loss. Maryland point guard Anthony Cowan made 1 of 2 free throws with 0.6 second on the clock to give the Terrapins a 92-91 overtime victory that silenced a 12,735-strong State Farm Center crowd.

"We did what we had to do to get back in it," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "I told our team before the game how proud I was — maybe that was a big mistake — because I think we're getting better defensively.

"We're doing some doggone good things defensively. That was obviously not the case tonight. Just no effort early, but a lot of fight late. I give our guys a lot of credit for that."

So that pivotal week more challenging than Illinois' unbeaten six-game start ended in a third straight loss. The Illini still haven't found the right formula to close out a win against at least an equally talented opponent. Five turnovers in the final 1:32 of regulation — the last two the definition of unforced error — proved that.

"That was self-destruct mode late," Underwood said. "I've got to continue to coach those moments and get better. The game's won. The game's over. All we've got to do is go make free throws, and four straight turnovers."

"At some point the team has to come together and start making these winning plays down the stretch," Aaron Jordan added.

The junior guard finished with 15 points and was one of five Illini in double figures.

Trailing by two points with just more than 4 seconds to play was a situation Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said his team probably shouldn't have escaped with the win. But the Terrapins did — even after giving up every bit of the 22-point lead they held 3 minutes into the second half.

"With this building and the way they guard and the way they shot, it doesn't surprise me they made a run on us," Turgeon said. "These cats are in you. They're in you, and they're reaching, and we've got to be strong. They keep coming in waves.

"I can't imagine anybody else in our league being able to pressure us like that when we're up 19 at half. Then they made some incredible shots."

Leron Black put together a strong second half to lead Illinois with 18 points. Mark Alstork did the same — including leading the way in overtime — to finish with 17 points. Trent Frazier and Kipper Nichols chipped in 11 points apiece.

But the Illini still didn't make the plays they had to in the most crucial of moments. A third shot at more of a defining win slipped away in a span of six days.

"A lot of it's instinctive," Underwood said. "You can't play with fear. You can't play afraid to make those plays. A lot of it's experience — lack of. ... We can play with anybody. We've got to find a way to win."

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Moonpie wrote on December 04, 2017 at 10:12 am

And anoher one bites the dust.

But surely a one-point loss is not really a loss and is instead a -- moral victory! Yay!

zuppke wrote on December 04, 2017 at 12:12 pm

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Teddy Roosevelt

Moral victory? No, but certainly hope for the not too distant future.

Bwp 5P wrote on December 04, 2017 at 4:12 pm

Exactly! They were probably one Mistake from clawing back from a 22 point deficit, to win this game! Moonpie can spew all the hate he wants, as the Sad individual he is......but these kids CAN battle! I'll admit frustration at the half..........I was ready to leave...........but by Golly...........the kids worked hard and got back in the game! Illini Basketball is looking up! Coach Underwood was a Great Hire. Brighter Days ahead!


JimOATSfan wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 am

Based on what I have been able to see/read thus far, the Illini have definitely improved over last season.

At this point I believe only the refs can beat us.

Go Illini