In pursuit of a commanding lead and with the absence of a commanding paint presence in Kofi Cockburn, Donta Scott attacked the basket just as Maryland did all night.
Scott crossed his defender over, powered his way under the rim and muscled his man off to finish with the foul. The junior forward let out a hearty roar following the whistle and went on to score five more points, securing Maryland’s first home win of 2022.
“Donta Scott did a great job of taking advantage of the fact [Cockburn] wasn’t there,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said.
With the services of Scott, Maryland men’s basketball (10-9, 2-6 B1G) toppled No. 17 Illinois, 81-65. Scott, who came off the bench for the first time all season, scored 15 of his career high 25 points in the second half.
“This was a high quality Big Ten game,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “With or without Kofi [Cockburn] that is a great basketball team … love the way we played.”
Without Cockburn, an intimidating two-way paint threat, Maryland’s second meeting with Illinois began with plenty of competitive verve. Both sides came out of the opening tip shooting at a high rate, hovering around the 50% mark from the field for much of the first half.
In the first 20 minutes, the Terps took advantage of the massive hole Cockburn left behind and kept close to the Illini while quickly climbing to a considerable 20 paint point total to Illinois’ 10. The Terps ended with a resounding 40 paint points to Illinois’ 13.
Behind 10 points from Donta Scott and eight from both Eric Ayala and Wahab, who also enjoyed the open restricted area with his first double digit outing since early January, Maryland escaped the half with a modest 37-35 lead.
Briefly, the success failed to carry over in the second half, as Illinois began showing its versatility as a ranked opponent and Maryland began to falter under the pressure of its high-powered offense.
It was a familiar collapse that featured a downpour of threes. The Illini got off to a 10-3 start and Alfonso Plummer led the way in the opening period with four and his teammates joined to get the team to 11 triples.
But as the Illini grew too reliant on threes and saw their excellent percentage drop below 30% in the second half, the Terps took prompt advantage of the visitors’ struggles, and Scott was the lead man to end Maryland’s losing streak.
“I was just able to take advantage of the smaller defenders on me,” Scott said.
After taking their largest lead of the half, 61-58, Scott continued to pile on points with nine straight. All of his baskets came in the paint and the Illini had no one to stop him. Scott’s isolation baby hooks and dribble drives gave the Terps the game-deciding, multiple-possession lead that put the game to rest.
“Donta’s a terrific basketball player, and his skill set allows him to do a lot different things out on the court,” Manning said. “But I think this type of game for him is what we would like to see.”