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Feb 15, 2024 2:25 pm

No. 14 Illinois looks keep lid on Maryland’s offense

illinois illini maryland

After a discouraging defensive showing over the weekend, coach Brad Underwood said No. 14 Illinois didn’t spend one second of practice on offense for two days.

The emphasis on guarding worked wonders the next time Illinois took the court. Now, one of the best teams in the Big Ten Conference has won four of five heading into Saturday’s trip to play Maryland in College Park, Md.

Illinois (18-6, 9-4 Big Ten) went basket for basket with Michigan State on Feb. 10 until the Fighting Illini’s shooting cooled off down the stretch. The Spartans finished on a 24-8 run to win 88-80. Illinois allowed MSU to shoot 52.7 percent from the field (29 of 55).

The next time out, Illinois blasted last-place Michigan 97-68 on Tuesday, keeping the Wolverines to 42.1 percent efficiency overall, and 1-for-10 from 3-point range.

“I spent two days just trying to reconnect this team in terms of what we do on the defensive side and how we go about it and having a little emphasis on that,” Underwood said. “And it’s amazing how offense becomes easier when you don’t worry about it.”

Underwood said he didn’t know his star player, Terrence Shannon Jr., reached 31 points on 11-of-15 shooting till the game was over.

“He guarded the basketball like he did early and we got connected that way, and that made things easier for us,” Underwood said.

Shannon has averaged 21.1 points per game for Illinois, while Marcus Domask adds 15.4 points and a team-best 3.4 assists per contest.

Coleman Hawkins, who’s third on the team at 12.3 points per game, scored 17 against Michigan. While he operates from the post, Hawkins has also totaled 17 assists over his past three games.

“Every time I’m aggressive … I feel like it’s easier for me to find those guys on open assists,” Hawkins said. “I’m happy the way I’m sharing the ball right now.”

Maryland (14-11, 6-8) hopes it has righted the ship after ending a three-game losing streak with a 78-66 home win Wednesday over Iowa, in which Jahmir Young scored 21 points and Julian Reese added 16 points and 13 rebounds.

It looked at one point like the Terrapins were headed for a fourth straight defeat. They trailed by as many as 11 points before their defense clamped down on the hot-shooting Hawkeyes over the final 10 minutes.

“To keep fighting — I’ve seen a lot of teams that have been through this that kind of just don’t come out and fight,” Maryland coach Kevin Willard said, per the Washington Post. “These guys showed great heart, so for them I think it’s really important.”

Maryland has allowed the fewest points per game in Big Ten play (65.1), while Illinois has the second-best offense in league action (82.6).

The Illini also want to avoid another upset after Maryland handed them a 76-67 loss on Jan. 14 in Champaign, Ill. Young (20.9 ppg this season) went for 28 points and eight assists for the Terrapins that day, while Domask paced Illinois with 26 points.

–Field Level Media

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