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Illinois drops battle for first place to No. 9 Maryland

The Illini miss out on first place in the Big Ten.

Evan McClintock // The Champaign Room

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The Orange Krush student section waited three hours outside State Farm Center for Illinois’ biggest home game in seven years.

The Illini disappointed.

No. 20 Illinois could hold a 15-point lead with a sold-out crowd against the No. 9 Maryland, but still lost to the Terrapins, 75-66.

The Illini (16-7, 8-4 Big Ten) entered the game with a hot hand from behind the arc and with every three came a more ecstatic State Farm Center. Ayo Dosunmu ignited the arena with the first three points in the game and Da’Monte Williams finally cut his scoreless-games streak in a big way with two buckets from behind the arc. The Illini jumped ahead to a 17-7 lead in the first five minutes of the game.

The quick start from the Illini never let Maryland find a rhythm. The Terrapins (19-4, 9-3 Big Ten) couldn’t handle the crowds’ energy and was picked up a technical foul early on. Five minutes later it happened again on a layup from Andres Feliz when he drew another technical foul. With seven minutes left in the half, it seemed the Illini had full taken control of the game.

That’s when Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon called a critical timeout that changed the tides of the first half. Maryland was able to slow down Illinois’ transition offense and sucked the air out of the crowd. Buckets started to fall as the Terrapins went on a 19-11 run to finish the first half and go to the break down 42-40.

“The zone changed it for us, gave us confidence,” Turgeon said. “We executed at a high level late.”

Illinois couldn’t buy a basket to start the second half, scoring only two pints in the first eight minutes of the half. Dosunmu and Giorgi Bezhanishvili struggled to finish at the rim. The poor shooting translated to sluggish defense, and a Brad Underwood technical only added insult to injury, and the Illini fell behind by six.

“We were one for our first 13,” Underwood said. “We had a couple great looks in the paint, then we just quit moving the ball. We didn’t move them enough.”

Alan Griffin got the Illini back on track with two threes — both answered by the Terrapins — that brought the crowd back into the game. Illinois eventually pulled within three points, but never was able to reclaim the lead in the second half. Illinois missed out on a chance to be at the top of the Big Ten standings with the 75-66 loss.

“We’re still playing for a championship,” Underwood said. “This game doesn’t define anything with eight games to go.”

Moments That Mattered

DMW SCORED: Da’Monte finally scored his first points since the North Carolina A&T game. His two threes in the first half were crucial for Illinois to jump ahead of the Terrapins early.

You Gotta See This

What a first half.

Tweet of the Game

The best moment of the night may have been hours before tipoff.

Who’s Next

Illinois stays at home for another top-20 matchup when it takes on No. 16 Michigan State on Tuesday night.

The Illini take the court at 8 p.m. C.T. at State Farm Center and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.