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Illinois Basketball Exorcises Xfinity Center Demons



Feb 17, 2024; College Park, Maryland, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (0) makes a move to the basket during the first half against the Maryland Terrapins at Xfinity Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

After losing to Maryland at home earlier in the season, Illinois basketball accomplished something they never have in the Brad Underwood era. The Illini rode out a blow for blow slugfest in the second half to win their first game in College Park since Maryland joined the Big Ten. The biggest lead either way was eight, with the Illini able to hold onto an 85-80 win.

1. Response

On the national TV FOX broadcast, Robbie Hummel remarked that the game reminded him of the Michigan State game a week ago. In that game ethe Illini were unable to close out an eight-point lead on the road. In this one, despite allowing Maryland to get back into the game, the Illini responded. After the Terrapins tied the game at 68, Illinois basketball closed the game out, with Maryland never being able to get within touching distance late. Marcus Domask and Terrence Shannon Jr. were able to generate consistent offense. On the other end the team got just enough stops to get a big win.

2. Whistles

Illinois basketball is one of the top defensive teams in the country at not fouling. The Illini are whistled for just about 15 fouls per game. However in this game the officials called it tight both ways. 47 times a foul was called on either team, 22 of which were on Illinois. Beyond the general ridiculousness of watching a game like that has that many fouls, Maryland’s size advantage allowed them to brute force their way to the basket. However, the Illini’s best players also generated a lot of contact. The starting unit shot 33 free throws against the number six defense in the country on Kenpom.

3. Chameleon

Illinois basketball showed a number of unique schemes for the Terrapins threats. After Julian Reese punished them for 20 in the home loss. That was part of 52 point paints for Maryland. While they were still able to get 44 points in the paint, the Illini doubled Reese often. They also showed some blitzes on Jahmir Young. While 80 points allowed against a team like Maryland is less than optimal, the Illini’s wrinkles allowed them to get just enough stops. It also allowed them to force some turnovers, leading to 19 fastbreak points. With the Illini’s profile versatility, being able to show more looks as the season winds down will be a good way to mix things up. Brad Underwood also pulled out a zone again, something else they are showing more and more.

With the win, the Illini go to 19-6, 10-4 in conference. Third-place Wisconsin took their fifth straight loss, meaning Illinois has a two game gap at second place. Purdue continues to march along, and it feels like the Illini will have to win out to catch them. However, every win helps. Illinois was 15th in the initial bracket reveal, and as long as they keep winning, they can continue to climb toward a 3 seed.

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Brian is a former sports writer for the Daily Illini who has been covering Illinois Basketball for over 5 years. Brian is now the lead basketball reporter for Armchair Illini, the go-to source for Illinois athletics news. He has had work published on Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, USA Today and more.