The turnovers were of an unfamiliar sort.
There were sloppy passes. There was constant miscommunication.
Maryland played bully ball. They employed schoolyard tricks. At times, it looked like their players had four arms each.
Shauna Green occasionally looked rattled during the first half of Illinois’ Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal game Friday night against Maryland.
The Terrapins used their size and length to disrupt passing lanes and dominate the glass.
Yes, Makira Cook is a star. She’s proven that throughout this breakthrough season for the Fighting Illini.
But she’s not a superhero. Despite her 14 points in the first half, the Illini still went into the locker room suffering from a 41-25 halftime deficit.
The story of the first half was not a pretty one.
And the second half was as tough as the previous night’s showing against Rutgers was artistic. Despite increased aggression from Genesis Bryant, the Illini failed to substantially chip into Maryland’s lead.
Illinois outscored Maryland by one in the second half. They responded to Coach Green’s halftime challenge to be more aggressive
The Terrapins were able to force the Illini to take undesirable attempts at the end of the shot clock. Maryland Coach Brenda Frese lauded her team’s defensive performance. And rightfully so.
“I thought defensively we were really aggressive and were able to turn them over for a lot of turnovers on the defensive end,” Freese said at her post game press conference. “It was something we stressed obviously coming out from the tip, not allowing those threes…”
Illinois didn’t scorch the nets like they did against the Scarlet Knights. They shot 5-of-16 from beyond the arc and under 41% from the field for the game.
Maryland held Illinois’ bench scoreless and only four Illini players cracked the scoring column.
After the game, Kendall Bostic summarized the perils of this matchup with a familiar foe.
“I think Coach Green always says at this point in the season, it’s about execution. Everyone knows everyone’s plays. Everyone knows everyone’s strengths…”
This game was ugly from the beginning, and there’s no way around that.
However, this isn’t a blowout loss that should cause mass consternation in a fanbase known for worst-case scenario thinking with immediacy. This game was an aberration against an excellent team as much as the blowout against Rutgers with only eight players was an aberration.
Shauna Green and the Illini belong in March. Even in defeat, some of the signs were there.
- Genesis Bryant shook off an ineffective first half to finish with 17 points on the night.
- Kendall Bostic had a 10-point, 16-rebound double-double.
- The Illini were facing a loaded Maryland team without some of their key depth pieces.
Coach Frese sees a similar upside for the Illini in March.
“I can’t say enough about Shauna and their staff and Illinois. I hope they make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Their staff has done a terrific job this year.”
March is traditionally about guard play. Illinois has two dynamo backcourt threats. Both gave it their all in Minneapolis even though the team came up short. On Friday, Maryland set the tone with its length and disruption. Illinois will have to use its stellar backcourt to reclaim control of the pace and style of play.
And despite all of the team’s struggles, Coach Green remains consistent in her messaging.
“For us, it’s just consistency in really our core values of our defense, number one…And rebounding, like boxing out. Like it’s just so simple.”
That unwavering, relentless dedication to core principles is a big part of what made Shauna Green a success in the A10 and the B1G.
This team has too much shooting, rebounding, defense, and quality leadership to not be a threat in March.
Now, the team plans for an immediately unknown future. Selection Sunday awaits.
The scouting load will get tougher. The stakes will get higher.
This team has shown scoring prowess. It’s shown rebounding excellence. It’s demonstrated toughness and resilience.
Now, it’s time to once again demonstrate the ruthless efficiency that made this season so special.
It’s all about execution.