Perimeter-oriented Maryland provides different type of challenge for No. 12 Illinois


Mark Capapas

Illinois coach Brad Underwood plans a play on the sidelines during the game against Purdue on Jan. 2.

By Brandon Simberg, Staff Writer

The last time Maryland faced off against Illinois, the teams were battling for the top spot in the Big Ten. A year later, the Illini still sit near the top of the Big Ten, but the Terrapins don’t. After losing All-Big Ten players Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith, the Terrapins sit third from the bottom of the Big Ten at 1-5.

Despite the polar opposite records, these teams have had exciting matchups over the past few seasons. Maryland won both matchups last season, each time coming back from a double-digit deficit. Two years ago, Illinois was 1-7 in conference when they took down then-No. 13 Maryland at Madison Square Garden. But despite these close results, Illini head coach Brad Underwood won’t call this matchup a rivalry just yet.

“It’s the Big Ten,” Underwood said. “They’re all close. They’re all two-possession games, most of ‘em. I go into every game expecting that and preparing for that.”

Without Smith, Maryland is playing a different style this year. They start a traditional center in 6-foot-9 Alabama transfer Galin Smith. But, Mark Turgeon has been using a lot of smaller lineups with untraditional centers. 6-foot-8 junior Jairus Hamilton and 6-foot-7 Donta Scott spend a fair amount of time playing the five. As a result, Maryland is 135th nationally in rebound percentage, while the Illini are first. Maryland doesn’t have a player with the size to match Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, something Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon is aware of.

“There aren’t many humans on earth that are like that and are that skilled,” Turgeon said. “Yeah, it’s a load.”

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Maryland’s smaller lineup does allow them to play five-out, similar to what Northwestern did on Thursday. When Scott or Hamilton play the five, Cockburn will have to guard on the perimeter more. Scott and Hamilton have made a combined 36 threes on the season.

“There’s no doubt it’s a team that can really drive the ball,” Underwood said. “They’re driving not just to score, but to kick it out. … It’s a team that built on the offensive end to shoot threes. There’s no doubt that Kofi is gonna have to do the same thing he did against Northwestern.”

Another matchup to watch will be how Maryland senior guard Darryl Morsell defends Ayo Dosunmu. Morsell has spent the past three matchups as the primary defender on Dosunmu, holding him to 15 points per game on 37.5% shooting from the field. Nonetheless, Morsell had high praise for Dosunmu.

“Every time he steps on the floor, he has that passion and competitiveness to win and that’s something I respect as a player,” Morsell said. “All the attention and accolades he gets, he is that.”

A win on Sunday would mark Illinois’ fifth straight, a terrific accomplishment in a chaotic Big Ten. They would be 6-1 in conference, firmly in second place behind 5-0 Michigan. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. central time, and the game can be watched on the Big Ten Network.