Sunday was the type of game that proved just how much Illinois’ fortunes changed when both Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn opted to return for the 2020-21 season. And even the two of them combining for 44 points and 18 rebounds wasn’t enough to forestall a flat performance in a 66-63 Maryland upset.
What it means
Illinois had a chance to at least give itself a small cushion behind unbeaten Michigan at the top of the Big Ten standings. A win against Maryland would have had the Illini a full game ahead of fellow title contenders Wisconsin and Iowa. Now the Illini are alone in fourth looking up at their rivals instead.
The No. 12 Illini (9-4, 5-2 Big Ten) will face Big Ten bottom dwellers Nebraska (4-8, 0-5) on Wednesday night in Lincoln, Neb. The Cornhuskers also lost Sunday, squandering a rather impressive comeback attempt after falling behind by 18 points just to ultimately lose 84-76 at home to Indiana.
What was said
“I just think late game we didn’t make a lot of plays. We didn’t make winning plays. We had a lot of chances. We missed free throws down the stretch. We gave up rebounds and kick-out threes. We didn’t play well enough down the stretch to win this game.” — Illinois junior guard Ayo Dosunmu.
Player of the game
Maryland guard Darryl Morsell
Maybe Morsell would have started anyway now two full games and 10 days removed from the facial fracture he suffered Dec. 31 against Michigan. Eric Ayala’s groin injury pushed Morsell into a more prominent (and different) role, and the veteran guard delivered. Morsell keyed Maryland’s upset with 19 points, four rebounds and three assists, scoring 15 of those 19 points in the second half
Sure, Ayo Dosunmu put up a game-high 23 points, but it wasn’t an efficient 23 points considering he needed 23 shots to get there. The Illini’s inability to finish around the rim — a trait Dosunmu shared — was an issue. Trent Frazier’s left arm injury and Adam Miller disappearing in the second half offensively didn’t help Illinois. Morsell’s big night, along with just enough help from the likes of Aaron Wiggins and Hakim Hart, was enough for the Terrapins.
Double-double No. 9 for Kofi Cockburn was about all the Illini got from its frontcourt given an off night for Giorgi Bezhanishvili. Cockburn’s 21 points and 10 rebounds was important, but Maryland’s ability to frustrate him with double- and triple-teams late in the game was key in the Terps securing the upset. Donta Scott’s 16 points (buoyed by 3 of 4 three-point shooting) and eight rebounds certainly didn’t hurt Maryland’s cause.
This game was all about the starters. Mostly. Andre Curbelo did have eight points off the bench for the Illini, but the freshmen guard finished with more fouls (four) than assists (three) or rebounds (two). The other two Illini bench points came from Coleman Hawkins, with both Bezhanishvili and Jacob Grandison mostly ineffective. Which describes the entirety of the Maryland bench, too.
The way Illinois has been able to withstand big runs by its opponents (often coinciding with inefficient, unproductive offense) cast a strange feeling on Sunday’s game. As much as the Illini were struggling, they’d still pull it out. Right? Not so much. Play with fire enough times, and there’s a good chance you’ll be burned. The result was a winnable game turning into a disappointing loss to Maryland.