There’s a tie atop the Big Ten and the two teams jostling for the lead meet Friday night when No. 9 Maryland travels to play No. 20 Illinois in Champaign.
The Terrapins (18-4, 8-3) ran their win streak to five with a pulse-pounding 56-51 win over visiting Rutgers on Tuesday in College Park — where Maryland is now 13-0. But this game is at Illinois (16-6, 8-3) in State Farm Center, and the Terrapins are just 2-4 on the road this season (though they have won their last two road games and have turned into a defensive dynamo recently).
“We’ve been pretty good on defense the whole year, we’ve tried to tighten a couple things up,” said Maryland senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. “We can’t get content, think we’re on a five-game winning streak. That doesn’t even matter. We just need to look at the next game now.”
Maryland has held its last two opponents to less than 37-percent shooting, including just 33.8-percent shooting by Rutgers.
The Illini saw their seven-game win streak snapped in an emotional 72-65 loss at No. 18 Iowa on Sunday. Now Illinois is back home where the Illini are 12-1 and 5-0 so far in conference play and have continued to be one of the best rebounding teams in the country (fourth nationally in rebound margin at plus-9.4).
“This is what we’re bred for, this is what we’re trying to be about,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood told reporters about his team’s toughness this season. “We haven’t been about this the last two years. There has been a softness…we’ve been the pushover. And I’m not doing that anymore.”
Tempers flared at the conclusion of the Iowa game, as Illini assistant Ron Coleman and Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery got into a heated exchange before the handshake line wisely broke apart. The Illini and Terrapins had a taut contest themselves in College Park in December, Illinois squandering a 14-point lead and bowing 59-58.
Cowan, who hit a 3-pointer to tie that game with 19 seconds left, came up with a steal and hit a free throw at 2.1 seconds to provide the final margin. The streaking Illini have won 10 of 13 games since that meeting and have maintained a spot atop the league standings.
The Terrapins held Illinois to 6-of-22 shooting (27.2 percent) in the second half and limited Illinois’ Big Three of Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn and Trent Frazier to just 31 points and 11-of-26 shooting.
Cowan continues to lead Maryland, and sophomore center Jalen Smith has been on fire during the winning streak, averaging 20.8 points, 12.2 rebounds and 3.6 blocks in his last five games. Dosunmu (15.8 points per game), the 7-foot Cockburn (14.0 ppg, 9.2 rebounds per game) and Frazier (10.0 ppg, .371 3-point shooting percentage) pace Illinois, while Andres Feliz is coming off the bench to average 11.1 points. Feliz led Illinois with 17 points at Iowa.
Maryland has a 10-6 lead in the all-time series with Illinois, 5-2 since the Terrapins joined the Big Ten in 2014 (including victories in the last two games in Champaign).
Illinois continues at home next Tuesday against Michigan State. Maryland will return home to Xfinity Center that same night to meet Nebraska.
–Field Level Media