CHAMPAIGN — Ayo Dosunmu is Illinois men’s basketball’s leading scorer and go-to player in crunch time.
Kofi Cockburn is a load in the paint, a physical presence just one rim-rattling dunk away from igniting the home crowd.
Andres Feliz has arguably been the Illini’s best player during the past two weeks with every successful dribble drive punctuated with a “Vroom, vroom” hand gesture.
None of those three was the player Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said his team was primarily focused on slowing down Friday night in the top-25 showdown at State Farm Center. No, that honor — that game planned defensive attention — was cast on Illinois junior guard Trent Frazier.
“He’s dynamic,” Turgeon said. “He can get going. He’s the one guy that can really get going from three for them. He was a key for us when you look at the stats of when they play well and when they don’t play well.”
Maryland ultimately didn’t have to take Frazier out of the game. Illinois managed to do that all by itself. Frazier committed his second foul with 12 minutes, 12 seconds remaining in the first half. Illini coach Brad Underwood, per his usual approach, subbed Frazier out and kept him on the bench through the end of the first half.
Both Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Kofi Cockburn also had two first-half fouls. Bezhanishivili actually got back in the game for a short run when Cockburn picked up his second because Underwood said he trusts his sophomore forward rather than his freshman center in that situation.
Frazier stayed on the bench.
“It wasn’t as much about the lead evaporating as it was we were still in the game,” Underwood said about holding out his starters again with two first-half fouls. “Had it put us down eight, 10, 12, yeah, they would have gone back in. We were in a pretty good flow.
“I know Trent’s value to our team — especially on the defensive end. Maybe it’s something we think about a little differently now. Trent impacts us so much on the defensive side, it’s not a shock that they had the first half they had when we lose Trent.”
Illinois led by 12 — on its way to its largest lead of 14 — when Frazier headed to the bench for a lengthy sit. Maryland outscored the Illini 28-18 to close out the first half, cutting its deficit to two. The Terrapins took their first lead of the second half on a Jalen Smith dunk before the first media timeout and never trailed again in their 75-66 victory.
“To win, you’ve got to be good, and you’ve got to be lucky,” Turgeon said. “We went zone, and they had some guys on the bench with foul trouble that are good shooters for them. We were able to zone. It was good. They lost their rhythm. We were able to slow them down a little bit. They had 29 (points) in the first 9 minutes and ended up with 60-whatever.”
Frazier finished with five points on 1 of 4 shooting. It was his fewest attempts since he took just two shots in Illinois’ late November blowout out of Hampton. Frazier’s lone three-pointer — part of the Illini’s torrid offensive pace to start the game — led to Maryland’s first defensive change before they went zone.
“We left him once in the first half on a double team,” Turgeon said. “We were like, ‘Screw the double.’ We can’t leave that kid. We can’t let him get going. Roll and replace, we stayed with him. We were willing to give up a roll instead of a replace with him.”
Frazier took just one shot in the second half and finished up his five-point performance with a pair of late free throws. The 12-plus minutes he sat in the first half, Underwood said, took him out of any offensive rhythm. The same was true for Cockburn and Bezhanishvili, who wound up shooting a combined 2 of 9 for the game.
“I thought he turned down a few in the second half that we need him to take,” Underwood said of Frazier. “Again, just one of those nights for those guys. Giorgi got some great, great looks that just didn’t go in. We’ll be back. There will be a night when those all go in.”