COLLEGE PARK — Maryland fans, from the student section “wall,” to DMV celebrities like ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt and tennis star Frances Tiafoe, to the uppermost reaches of a near-capacity Xfinity Center, got a rebirth and a reminder Friday night.
This is what major conference college basketball should look and feel like.
A boisterous, engaged crowd — the biggest in nearly three seasons — help fuel the Terrapins, and Jahmir Young’s dagger three with 0:14 left lifted No. 22 Maryland to a 71-66 win over No. 16 Illinois.
“I want to get this program back to a championship level, and to get it back to a championship level, you need a building like that every night,” said Maryland coach Kevin Willard. “If you look at the Kansas’, the Kentucky’s, those kinds of programs - which I think this program is on that level, they have a crowd like that every night.
“If we can get that every night, we’re gonna win more games like that.”
Young finished with 24 points on 9-of-20 shooting from the field. Hakim Hart also consistently provided a spark when Maryland (8-0) fell into a scoring rut, adding 17, including 5-of-6 from three.
The opening game of the Big Ten’s 2022 calendar did not disappoint after a week-long build-up of the top-25 matchup. And after muddling through a disjointed 2021-22 campaign, Maryland fans showed up ready to explode.
“I thought the crowd was off the charts, the student section was off the charts. I thought that was a big difference for us,” Willard said.
The pace began torrential, with the teams frenetically exchanging buckets for the first 9:00. Young led that charge quickly with Maryland’s first 7 points, part of his 15 in the half.
Scott then picked up the mantle, helping key an 11-0 run with 8 points to put Maryland up 8, 22-14, at the 10:38 mark. The lead would later grow to 12 amid a 6-minute Illinois scoreless stretch.
Illinois (6-2) looked unsure of themselves coming down the floor in the first half, while struggling to defend Maryland slashing through the paint to the basket. Gone is dominant Fighting Illini big man Kofi Cockburn, leaving a void that’s filled off the bench by Dain Dainja.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore lacks the scoring prowess of Cockburn, but his presence made a difference when he entered. Illinois rattled off a 9-0 run of their own to cut Maryland’s lead to 3 late in the half before reaching halftime down 41-34.
A sluggish second-half start for the Terrapins bled into the middle of the frame. Illinois would capitalize, with a defensive lockdown that held Maryland without a field goal for nearly 7 minutes. Combine that with another 9-0 Illinois run, and Maryland’s lead was down to 1 with 7:34 to go.
Skyy Clark’s foul at the 12:45 mark of the second put Maryland into the bonus early, but the Terrapins couldn’t use that as an advantage. Forward Julian Reese struggled, with nearly more fouls (4) than points (5), tallying two in instant succession near the midway point of the second half.
But when Maryland needed an answer, Young was there to provide it. He scored 7 of the Terrapins’ last 14 points, with his final basket a hand-in-his-face dagger of a three from near the top of the key to finish the Fighting Illini.
“[Illinois’ Terrence] Shannon went under [a pick-and-roll]. I just knew when he goes under to get ready and shoot,” Young said. “And I knew if we had a three it would be a two possession game, so I just got ready to shoot. I practice that shot and had the belief to knock it down.”
Now, as one of 15 undefeated teams remaining in Division I, Willard‘s timeline for what success looks like in year one has accelerated.
“I think these guys have really proved to everybody what this program is,” Willard said. “We still have a long way to go, obviously. But I think everyone got a glimpse of how hard these guys have worked, the attitude they’ve had and what this program is not only about now, but what it’s going to be about in the future. So, it’s really cool to be 8-0.”
• George Gerbo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.