Big Ten conference play is here early this year and you can feel the pressure/excitement in the air. There are still some non-conference games to be played in December, but so far the Terps have been tested with some quality opponents.

A pair of loses to Syracuse and Purdue have some fans and pundits concerned about Maryland but both of these games came down to one possession in the final seconds. While this young team may not have the best killer instinct come crunch time, they have shown the ability to hang with their opponent until the end.

On Sunday, the Terps traveled to Illinois to play their second conference game of the year. Despite taking a 22-point lead at one point in the first half, the Terps allowed Illinois to come all the way back in the second half. For the fourth time in the last five games, Maryland found themselves in a stressful situation late in the game. This time they would walk away victorious.

Maryland got right after their opponent in the early minutes of Sunday night’s game. The Fighting Illini looked completely lost as the Terps practically bullied them for the ball. Illinois coughed up the ball five times in the first five minutes as the Terps enjoyed a 10-0 advantage right from the tip.

As the half progressed Maryland would slowly extend their lead while shooting over 60% from the field. Anthony Cowan Jr. was the catalyst, scoring 16 points on 6-8 shooting. By the end of the half, Maryland was enjoying the benefits of a 23-8 scoring run, giving them a 19-point lead over Illinois at the half.

The script was flipped at the half and the Illini looked more alive with their back against the ropes. A couple of lopsided scoring runs allowed them to cut the large Maryland lead down fairly quickly. Before you knew it, the Illini had battled their way within six points of Maryland and brought the home crowd back into the game as well.

With about seven minutes left to play in the second half, Illinois looked unstoppable as they shoot well over 70% from the field. Turgeon tried to stop the bleeding by calling a few timeouts but the Terps never regained their footing.

Cowan Jr. helped put the team up by 19 in the first half but he went scoreless until the five-minute mark of the second half. The problem wasn’t with Cowan Jr. though, because the rest of the team went ice cold too. It wasn’t long until the Illini grabbed their first lead of the game and forced the Terps to go into full panic mode.

With just a four seconds left it looked like Illinois had everything wrapped up. The only thing left to do was inbound the ball cleanly but a terrible pass sailed out-of-bounds and Maryland was given one last opportunity. Turgeon drew up a play and called upon Kevin Huerter to take the big shot. His three ball from the corner went over the rim but Bruno Fernando was right there to muscle it back in for a game-tying bucket at the buzzer.

In overtime, the Terps’ offense came back to life but Illinois still wouldn’t let up. The teams traded baskets and free throws for the entirety of overtime but in the end the Terps held the ball last. Cowan Jr. dribbled the ball up the court as the clock worked it’s way under 10 seconds and it was clear to everyone in the arena that he planned on taking it to the hoop himself.

The sophomore guard pulled up inside the key and drew the contact he wanted. The Illinois crowd erupted in boos but the damage had already been done. Cowan Jr. went to the line and sunk the necessary free throw to take the lead and after purposefully missing the second. The Illini were left with no time to get a shot off.

Maryland escaped with a 92-91 win but it could have been so much easier had they forced themselves to the free throw line in the second half. The Terps will return to College Park with five non-conference home games on the horizon. They will not see another Big Ten opponent until the beginning of January when they take on Penn State.

Image Credit: Austin Yattoni