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Strong second-half performance can’t propel Illini to overtime win, fall 92-91

After a strong second half performance brought them back into the game, Illinois falls to Maryland in overtime

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

First it came down to the buzzer in regulation. Then, for Illinois and Maryland, it came down to the buzzer in overtime — like really, really down to the final buzzer.

The matchup? Senior guard Mark Alstork looking to stop a driving Anthony Cowan Jr. with the score tied at 91-91.

After several crossovers, Cowan got Alstork to finally bite and drove right baseline. As the clock was winding down, Cowan went for the running jumper to try and win it all for the Terrapins.

Out of nowhere comes Alstork for the recovery and blocks Cowan’s shot as the clock expires. A whistle blows in the last second as the official signals a shooting foul on Alstork.

The State Farm Center erupted in disappointment and anger over the call, and Cowan hit the first free throw (before missing the second on purpose) to clinch the 92-91 road overtime victory over the Illini.

“Mark was great, made a bad play at the end,” Underwood said. “I told him in the locker room and I’ll tell him front of you guys, you got to make him shoot the ball in.”

Illinois had five players with double-figure scoring, led by junior forward Leron Black who had 18 points and Alstork who had 17.

Cowan finished with 27 points and sophomore Justin Jackson tallied on another 20 points for Maryland.

Illini fail to show up in the first half

The Illini got off to the worst possible start, allowing the game’s first 10 points to the Terrapins. Illinois head coach Brad Underwood called an early timeout, which included his snapping his clipboard in half and taking all of Illinois’ starters out of the game.

“We lost the game at the start of the opener,” Underwood said. “That’s really disappointing. I take a great deal of personal pride in making sure guys are ready and I said it on the radio, I really had to get all over them in shoot-around today.”

The bench mob had much more success once they checked into the game, specifically freshman guard Da’Monte Williams, who scored four points during the stretch to cut the score to 14-9 at the second media timeout.

Maryland quickly went on another 10-0 run toward the middle of the half. This run was led by Anthony Cowan’s 13 first-half points (5-of-6 shooting, 2-of-2 from three-point range). Underwood was forced to call another timeout as his team was down 36-20 with 4:13 remaining in the half.

The half didn’t end on a high note for Illinois either. Maryland still had control of the game with a 45-26 lead. The Terrapins finished the half shooting 73.1 percent from the floor and 71.4 percent from three-point range.

“Give Maryland a ton of credit,” Underwood said. “The first 25 minutes, I couldn’t even coach against Maryland, it was about trying to get these guys to even fight.”

They were also outrebounding the Illini, 19-10.

The only positive of the first frame for Illinois was redshirt sophomore Kipper Nichols (nine points, five rebounds in 12 minutes off the bench).

Defensively, the Illini were a mess, doing a poor job of containing dribble drives. Several of Cowan’s 16 first-half points came off of drives. When Illinois was not containing dribble, they were too busy getting lost on defense and getting back-cut on what seemed like every other possession.

Not a single player for Illinois reached double-digit scoring and the starting guards (Te’Jon Lucas and Mark Smith) were both held scoreless at half.

Behind Cowan, the Terrapins had sophomores Justin Jackson and Kevin Huerter contributing with 8 and 7 points at the midpoint of the game.

“First half was unacceptable,” Jordan said. “Coming out like that, that loss the game right there.”

Second half surge to force OT

After a slow start in its first couple of possession, Illinois went on a 7-0 run to try and cut away at the deficit. A corner three from Jackson still kept Maryland ahead 55-37 at the first media timeout of the second half.

The Illini would later go on a 6-0 run to cut the deficit to 14 with 13:42 remaining in the game. A strong baseline drive and slam from Michael Finke would eventually cut the deficit to 11 with 12:17 remaining in the game.

Fans got a chance to tune into the Aaron Jordan show midway through the second half when he nailed a couple of deep threes to make it a single-digit deficit.

Black followed Jordan’s stretch by making a contested hook shot in the lane to cut the deficit to six, the closest the game was since early in the first half.

A 6-0 run - thanks to a spurt from freshman guard Trent Frazier — made it a two-point game and gave the Illini all the momentum as the State Farm Center’s fans rose to their feet.

Then with 1:51 remaining, senior guard Mark Alstork nails his first three of the game from the right wing to give his team its first lead of the game, 74-73.

“Coming out of halftime, we just wanted to take it one possession at a time,” Alstork said.

Lucas split a pair of free throws and Illinois had a 75-73 lead. But with hardly anytime remaining on the clock and the ball under the Illini’s basketball after a failed in-bounds pass, the Terrapins forced overtime after a tip-in from Bruno Fernando as the clock expired.

And then there was overtime. Mark Alstork scored a bunch, and, as mentioned before, fouled Cowan with essentially no time on the clock, ending the game.

Maryland 92, Illinois 91

Illinois hosts Austin Peay on Wednesday night to resume non-conference play.