Maryland starts fast, never looks back in 84-59 rout of Illinois
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(AP) Maryland coach Mark Turgeon didn’t expect to be part of a 25-point game in Tuesday’s Big Ten opener against Illinois. Neither did Illini coach John Groce.
Turgeon was the only one of the two who was pleased at the surprise.
Melo Trimble scored 20 points, Jaylen Brantley added 13 and Anthony Cowan had 12 points and six assists as Maryland routed Illinois 84-59.
It was the sixth victory in a row for the Terrapins (13-1), who have won their conference opener in all three seasons since joining the Big Ten.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Turgeon said. “I didn’t think the numbers were going to be the way they were. Guys were dialed in. They were fresh. We took four days off over Christmas break. I said `Guys, a lot of people wouldn’t do this, but it’s such a long season. We’re going to be fresher tonight.'”
Malcolm Hill had 21 points for the Illini (10-4), who saw their six-game winning streak end.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Groce said. “We’ve had great effort, great attitudes, really practiced well and played well and kept playing better. . At the end of the day, to me it’s about quality possessions. We didn’t have enough of them today and we’d had a lot of them recently.”
Maryland played without two of its top post players. Junior Michal Cekovsky rested a left ankle injury, and senior Damonte Dodd missed his fifth consecutive game with a sprained left knee ligament.
Their absences mattered little against the Illini, who never led and were outscored 48-24 in the paint as Maryland’s guards drove to the basket with ease.
After both teams struggled in the early moments, Maryland uncorked a 10-0 run to seize a 15-4 lead. The Terps’ lead would never shrink below nine points, and Maryland held a 39-23 edge at the break and shot 55.9 percent for the game.
“I was really pleased looking at the scoreboard and seeing we were up by a lot, especially in the first half,” Trimble said. “We haven’t had a good first half yet.”
Defense was not the only problem for Illinois. Maryland scored 22 points off 17 Illini turnovers, and Illinois shot an anemic 26.7 percent before the break and made just 4 of 22 of its 3-pointers.
“Our shot selection I thought was atrocious in the first half,” said Groce, whose team dropped its Big Ten opener for the fourth time in five years.
It was a contrast to the slow starts that plagued Maryland throughout its nonconference schedule. It was the Terps’ second-largest margin of defeat against a Division I team this year, just shy of their 26-point drubbing of Jacksonville State on Dec. 12.
“I believe that is the best game we’ve played this year,” Brantley said. “We were just fresh mentally and physically.”
Illinois: It was the fifth consecutive road loss for the Illini dating to last season, and that skid could grow in the coming weeks as the Illini visits No. 16 Indiana, 15th-ranked Purdue and Michigan.
Maryland: The Terps will need Cekovsky and Dodd back to fortify their interior rotation as they delve deeper into Big Ten play.
STATS OF THE NIGHT
It was Maryland’s largest margin of victory in a conference opener since pummeling Clemson 89-60 in 1973-74. Illinois suffered its most lopsided loss in a Big Ten debut since falling 109-74 to Indiana in 1990-91.
Illinois guard Tracy Abrams was shooting 59.2 percent from 3-point range this year, but was 0 of 6 from the perimeter and finished with a season-low two points in the loss.
Illinois plays host to Ohio State on Sunday in the Illini’s first Big Ten home game and the Buckeyes’ conference opener.
Maryland remains at home to face Nebraska on Sunday as the Terps play the last of eight consecutive games inside the state.