CHAMPAIGN — Just one more play and Illinois would have completed the largest home court comeback in school history Sunday night.
Instead, an oh-so-close rally fell just short with Maryland winning 92-91 in overtime at the State Farm Center.
Illinois came from 22 points down in the second half and took the lead nine separate times late in the second half and in overtime before Maryland snatched the victory on a free throw by Anthony Cowan with 0.6 seconds to play.
In losing its third straight game and its second in a row in overtime, Illinois will look back knowing it should have won in regulation.
Illinois led 74-73 when Kipper Nichols blocked a shot by Maryland’s Dion Wiley. And when Cowan fouled Illini guard Te’Jon Lucas with 17.3 seconds to go, Lucas made one of two free throws to push the lead to 75-73.
Back the other way came Maryland, which was relying on Cowan, the clever point guard, to create offense from the top of the key. Illinois guarded him with Mark Alstork, who blocked his path and forced an errant pass that resulted in a turnover with 4.6 seconds to go.
“Just get the ball in bounds and make free throws,” coach Brad Underwood said after the fact.
Instead, a long in-bounds pass from under the Maryland basket sailed over everyone’s head. And since no one touched the ball, no time came off the clock, giving the Terrapins the ball with 4.6 seconds to go.
The ball went to Kevin Huerter in the corner and his 3-pointer missed. But 6-foot-10 Bruno Fernando reached out and made a one-handed tip that tied the game at the buzzer.
Offenses dominated in the overtime period. A 3-pointer by Alstork gave Illinois an 80-77 lead.
Maryland tied it on Cowan’s 3.
When Leron Black hit a free throw with 2:25 to go, Illinois was on top 85-83. But Cowan, who led Maryland with 27 points, made a difficult drive from the top of the key and Alstork was whistled for his fourth foul. When Cowan hit the free throw, Maryland was back in front 86-85 with 1:49 to go.
Illinois still led 89-88 on a driving basket by Aaron Jordan but Maryland took the lead again on a deep 3-pointer from the corner by Huerter. Now the Terps led 91-89 with 35 seconds to play.
Alstork’s drive tied it at 91 with 15 seconds to go and Maryland played for a final shot.
Alstork’s defense was tight, forcing Cowan into what looked like a difficult shot. But when he reached over the Maryland guard, he was whistled for his fifth foul with 0.6 seconds to go. And when Cowan hit the first free throw, he missed the second intentionally, ruining any chance for Illinois to draw up a final desperation play.
Underwood made it clear he wasn’t angry about the plays at the end.
“We didn’t lose this game because of those plays,” he said. “We lost his game at the start. I take a great deal of personal pride in having my team ready to play and today I really had to get after them at the shootaround.
“We can’t come out like that.”
Just four minutes into the game, Maryland had a 10-0 lead. Illinois was a defensive mess and Underwood yanked all five starters off the floor in order to send in a full shift change.
It set the stage for a miserable first half and Maryland led 45-26 at the break.
Maryland (7-3, 1-1) built the lead to 22 points early in the second half before Illinois locked in defensively and mounted its comeback.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Illinois’ defense was smothering in the second half.
“Illinois is a different animal,” he said. “These cats are into you and they are reaching and you have to be strong because they keep coming in waves.
“I can’t imagine anyone else being able to pressure us like that. And they made incredible shots.”
Illinois (6-3, 0-2) shot 68 percent in the second half.
Black finished with 18 points and made 8 of 11 shots. Alstork scored 17. And Jordan scored 15, including 3-of-5 from 3-point distance.
But one game after playing strong at the point, Lucas spent more time on the bench because Trent Frazier was so good. Frazier had 11 points, 7 assists and just one turnover in 28 minutes.
Underwood said he believes Illinois did enough good things to have beaten Wake Forest, Northwestern and Maryland. But they also did just enough bad things to lose all three games.
“I love this team,” he said. “I told them that in the locker room after the game, and I love what they can become. They have to get out of their own way.
“Once we do that, we’re going to be really fun.”