Illinois finishes off regular season with loss to Maryland

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Illinois finishes off regular season with loss to Maryland

Illinois forward Sarah Shewan shoots a three-pointer during the game against Penn State at the State Farm Center on Feb. 24. The Illini lost 76-65.

Illinois forward Sarah Shewan shoots a three-pointer during the game against Penn State at the State Farm Center on Feb. 24. The Illini lost 76-65.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois forward Sarah Shewan shoots a three-pointer during the game against Penn State at the State Farm Center on Feb. 24. The Illini lost 76-65.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois forward Sarah Shewan shoots a three-pointer during the game against Penn State at the State Farm Center on Feb. 24. The Illini lost 76-65.

By JJ Kim, Staff writer

No. 8 Maryland took down Illinois on Saturday 71-62. With the win against the Illini, their second of the season, the Terrapins clinched the Big Ten title.

For  Illinois, it was the final game to cap off its season under head coach Nancy Fahey.

Senior Alex Wittinger came into the game three blocks shy of becoming the Illini’s all-time leader in the stat. By the end of the game, she was two short, only recording one block. Nevertheless, the senior finished her final game with yet another efficient run, something both fans and players alike have come to expect during her time on the team. She scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as she recorded the final double-double of her career.

“She’s been the anchor in our program for several years. I know how focused she was … She did a great job for us,” Fahey said.

In the first quarter, the Illini started out strong, shooting 5-8, but they then cooled off significantly as the quarter progressed. They went on a nearly three-minute scoring drought, making only one of their next eight shots.

The Illini also struggled with four turnovers, which led to easy fast-break points each time. The Illini couldn’t pick up the pace themselves as they failed to score a single fast-break point despite forcing two turnovers.

The Terps also dominated the boards with a plus-six advantage, including seven offensive boards. Maryland finished the opening quarter with a 22-14 lead.

In the second quarter, it seemed like Wittinger got a bloody nose again, signaling how physical the Terps can get down low. Nonetheless, the Illini continued to scratch and claw, forcing three early turnovers and closing the Terps’ lead to four.

Wittinger stretched the floor as she drilled two first-half three-pointers and led the Illini with 10 points. She’d only attempted 18 three-pointers coming into the game but seemed to feel it from deep. While Wittinger is usually the one who racks up the blocks, it was freshman Mackenzie Blazek who notched two blocks in the first half and scored a crafty low post move to pull the Illini within two points.

On the other side, the Terps’ freshman phenom Taylor Mikesell drilled two quick three-pointers to dampen the Illini’s run. But the Illini simply refused to let up as they forced the Terps into foul trouble with four players committing at least two fouls. The Illini went 5-9 from the charity stripe as they finished out the quarter down just 37-33.

The third quarter saw the Illini tie the game up about halfway through the quarter, thanks to six quick points by Wittinger. The Terps were a combined 8-26 in the past quarter and a half, while the Illini were taking advantage of their poor scoring by shooting 9-22. The Terps eventually regained their footing, capped off by an and-one basket by Shakira Austin and a corner three by Blair Watson to extend their lead by 10.

In the final quarter of the game, the comeback effort was stagnant for most of the quarter, but the Illini went on a 6-0 run with 3:30 remaining to cut the lead to just six. Maryland quickly responded and scored five straight, to extend the lead back into double digits at 11. The Illini only made three of their first 10 shots in the fourth quarter, while the Terps made five of their first 11. Illinois had to foul with 1:15 left, allowing Maryland to extend its lead to 13, its largest lead of the game.

“I just felt like they hit some big (timely) threes. They hit enough of them, and I think we got tired chasing,” Fahey said. “When that happens we have to answer, but we didn’t answer.”

The team has shown improvement from Fahey’s inaugural season, but the Illini will look to finish better than last place in the Big Ten after ending the season with a 10-19 record.

“We came here to compete; they’re a very good team,” Fahey said. “You have to come out and show up, and that’s what we did today. I’m proud of that; we came up short but their effort was good.”

The Illini will have plenty of optimism heading into the offseason. There is much to be excited for with two seasons under their belt in Fahey’s system, emerging young talent like sharpshooter Arieal Scott, and established veterans such as guard Brandi Beasley. Junior Ali Andrews also ended the season as Illinois’ most accurate three-point shooter in history with a 41.6 percent mark, which is something to build off of moving forward.

While the regular season draws to a close, the Illini will still compete in the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago, which starts on March 6.

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