CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Maryland stopped a furious Illinois second-half comeback to steal a 92-91 overtime win in Big Ten conference action Sunday night.
Either team could have won the game in the final minutes and seconds, trading shots and fouls like heavyweight boxers.
“That was a big-time college basketball game,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “We were terrific in the first half, and they were terrific in the second half. It’s a game we probably shouldn’t have won, but we’ll take it.”
Anthony Cowan scored 27 points to lead Maryland (7-3, 1-1 Big Ten). Justin Jackson scored 20 and Kevin Huerter added 17 for the Terrapins.
Leron Black led Illinois (6-3, 1-1 Big Ten), while Mark Alstork scored 17 and Aaron Jordan added 15.
Maryland held a commanding 45-26 lead at the half, led by Cowan’s 16 points, nine from outside the 3-point line.
Illinois mounted a furious comeback in the second half, taking its first lead of the game 74-73 with 1:51 left in regulation. Maryland’s Bruno Fernando tipped in a shot at the buzzer to send the game into overtime with the score tied 75-75. Cowan sank a free throw with six-tenths of a second left in overtime for the win.
“Bruno’s tip was amazing,” Turgeon said. “The basketball gods were with us tonight.”
It was the third loss in a row for the Illini, after losing at Wake Forest and in overtime at Northwestern in its conference opener. Maryland also was coming off two losses, at Syracuse and to Purdue at home.
First-year Illinois coach Brad Underwood was nearly speechless after the game. “I really don’t even know what to say. I mean, we didn’t lose the game, but we did. We had it and gave it away. It was very disappointing.”
After both teams turned over the ball to open the game. Maryland went on a 10-0 run before Underwood went to the Illinois bench early, pulling all five starters and essentially rotating two teams the remainder of the game.
“I can’t say enough for our bench tonight,” Underwood said. “They were amazing.”
Illinois slowly crept back, at one point pulling to within three points, 14-11, before the Terrapins began to systematically pound the ball inside and outside against a smaller Illinois team for its commanding halftime lead.
Illinois opened the second half slowly but picked up steam on a Michael Finke dunk with 12:25 left in regulation to pull the Illini to within 11. Aaron Jordan hit three consecutive three-pointers to tie the score at 69 with four minutes left in regulation.
“They are so fast and quick,” Turgeon said. “Illinois is just a different kind of animal. They come at you in waves. They made some incredible shots. We’re still learning and I’m really glad we won tonight.”
BIG PICTURE: Maryland’s zone defense stifled Illinois early in the game, and the Terrapins took advantage of its height to offset Illinois’ speed and quickness.
TURNING POINT: Huerter hit a three-pointer with 39 seconds left in overtime to give Maryland a 91-89 lead. Alstork countered for the Illini with a layup with 17 seconds left to tie the game before Cowan iced it for the Terrapins at the free throw line with six-tenths of a second left.
HIGHLIGHT REEL: Fernando’s athletic one-handed tip of a rebound to send the game into overtime was a thing of beauty. “Wow. Just wow,” coach Turgeon said.
UP NEXT: Maryland hosts Ohio on Thursday, while Illinois plays Austin Peay at home on Wednesday.