NEW YORK (AP) — 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.
“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.”
In the second half, Illinois made 50 percent of its shots from the field (13 of 26), including 6 of 14 from 3, plus 16 of 17 from the foul line. For the game, Illinois shot 42.4 percent from the field, 34.8 percent from 3 and 90.9 percent from the stripe. “The focus was to drive it in there and kick it out,” Dosunmu said. “That’s like easy money shots.”
UP NEXT: The Illini travel to Minnesota to face the Golden Gophers on Wednesday, Jan. 30 at 8 pm CT.
ILLINOIS POSTGAME NOTES
• Illinois snapped a 15-game skid against Top 25 teams, winning for the first time over a ranked opponent since defeating No. 20 Iowa, 68-66, in the 2016 Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis 3/10/2016.
• Illinois had a season-low nine turnovers. The Illini had only one turnover in the first half, its lowest in a half this season (previous low was two in the first half vs. Wisconsin last game).
• Illinois forced 21 Maryland turnovers (15 in the second half), the most by the Terrapins this season. It was Maryland’s first time over 20 turnovers since the Illini forced them into 25 turnovers in Champaign last season 12/3/2017.
• Illinois finished on a 22-8 run after trailing 59-56 with 6:53 remaining in the game. Illinois went on a 19-8 run after the game was tied 59-59 with 5:00 remaining.
• Illinois freshmen (Bezhanishvili, Dosunmu, Jones, Griffin) combined for 47 points on 16-of-32 field goal shooting (50 percent) and 6-of-14 (42.9 percent) three-point shooting, while adding six rebounds and nine assists. The freshmen scored 60.3 percent of Illinois points.
• Illinois’ 27 points off turnovers were its second-most this season and most since 32 in the season opener against Evansville.
• The game was part of the fourth annual Big Ten Super Saturday – College Hoops and Hockey doubleheader. The event featured the Illini-Terrapins basketball game followed by a Michigan-Penn State hockey game, both taking place on the same day at Madison Square Garden.
• The game was also is part of Coaches vs. Cancer Suits & Sneakers Week.
• Freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu led Illinois with 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field and 7-of-7 shooting from the free-throw line.Dosunmu has been the Illini’s leading scorer in seven of the last eight games, averaging 18.5 points (148) with five 20-point outings.
• Freshman guard Tevian Jones had career highs in points (18), field goals made (6-12), three-pointers made (4-9), rebounds (4, tied) and minutes (22). Jones had scored 28 points on the season before scoring 18 against Maryland.
• Junior guard Andres Feliz scored 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting, his highest scoring Big Ten game this season and third-highest scoring game overall (19 vs. UNLV, 16 vs. Evansville, 13 vs. Georgetown). Feliz added a career-high six rebounds, one more than his previous career high (5 vs. Georgetown, 5 vs. ETSU).
• Freshman forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili is averaging 14.0 points (98) and 6.1 rebounds (43) on 56.8 percent shooting (42-74) over the last seven games, scoring at least 15 points four times.