CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Maryland men’s basketball entered Illinois without a win over a ranked opponent or a road Big Ten win. When the Terps walked off the court on Sunday, neither fact remained true.
The Terps have played through guard Jahmir Young and forward Julian Reese for most of the season, and they turned in perhaps their best performance as a duo this season in Maryland’s 76-67 win at No. 10 Illinois.
Young scored 28 points and dished out eight assists while Reese scored 20 and grabbed 11 rebounds. Their performances led to Maryland’s second straight win and the Terps’ biggest victory of the season.
“For the most part, since December, [Young and Reese] have been playing that way,” coach Kevin Willard said. “Unfortunately for us, we kind of caught Purdue and Minnesota coming off both guys missing a lot of time with the flu … but they’ve been giving this effort all year.”
Illinois got off to a quick start thanks to guard Luke Goode, who sank three triples in the opening five minutes. The Illini made their fourth three-pointer on their sixth attempt to expand their lead to nine points, but Maryland’s offense began to show signs of life and prevented the Illinois lead from getting out of hand.
A Noah Batchelor three with just over three minutes left in the first half tied the game at 33. The Terps took their first lead since scoring the first bucket of the game shortly after.
After starting the game shooting 5-for-18, Maryland closed out the half by making 10 of its final 17 attempts and entered the break trailing Illinois, 39-37.
The Terps went to Reese early and often. The junior finished the first half with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting from the field and added seven rebounds. Young led Maryland in points at halftime with 12.
While Maryland’s shooting from the field improved by halftime, sitting at 42.9 percent, it still struggled from beyond the arc, going 2-for-12. It’s been an issue all season long for the Terps, who entered the day shooting 27.7 percent from three, the second-lowest mark of any high-major program.
The second half started off with multiple lead changes in the first few minutes as Reese and Young continued to lead the way for the Terps. The Illini, who were without leading scorer Terrence Shannon Jr. due to a suspension and who’s lineup doesn’t include a traditional point guard or center, struggled to find answers for the duo.
After trailing by three a few minutes into the half, the Terps went on a 15-6 run over a nine-minute stretch to go up by six points, grabbing its then-largest lead of the game with just more than eight minutes remaining. Maryland also played one of its cleaner games on the offensive end, recording seven turnovers.
“In our losses [turning it over] is the key,” Young said. “Turning the ball over is something that we can’t do, especially on the road. So it’s being sure with everything, sure with our passes [and] getting a shot every time down.”
Illinois’ offense couldn’t get much going after the break, shooting 3-for-24 from the field to start the second half.
The Terps had multiple defensive breakdowns in the first half that led to open threes for Illinois but cleaned it up in the final 20 minutes, preventing the Illini from getting into any sort of rhythm offensively.
“Just looking over film, the defensive mishaps we had, we left a couple of guys open because a couple of brainfarts and malfunctions, and [in the second half we were] just locking in on and keying in on shooters,” Reese said.
Reese has seemingly recovered from a short drought he faced around the turn of the year, which was possibly a result of the sickness running through the team. The junior scored just one point against UCLA on Dec. 22 and went scoreless against top-ranked Purdue on Jan. 2, but has thrived in the Terps’ last three contests.
Reese has averaged 16 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and two steals per game in that span, notching double-doubles in two of those three contests.
“[I’m] just being aggressive, not shying away from missed shots,” Reese said. “I used get back on myself, try to live away from the rim and not be aggressive. [Now] I felt like being aggressive and taking advantage of my size and just dominating the paint.”
Maryland continued to lean on Young and Reese’s ability to score near the basket as the clock ticked down and the Terps attempted to hold onto a narrow lead.
Maryland scored a season-high 52 of its 76 points in the paint on Sunday, and the duo combined to score 15 of the Terps’ final 22 points Willard’s squad notched a much-needed quad one victory. The coach said he has to stay present and can’t think about Maryland’s resume for March, but certainly isn’t complaining about his team filling what was once a glaring hole.