Big Ten Super Saturday

NEW YORK CITY.   Madison Square Garden played host to the 4th Annual Big Ten Conference Super Saturday games.  This year No. 13 Maryland was set to face Illinois in a battle that many thought would be a lopsided contest, in favor of the Terrapins.  A sea of Orange made up most of the crowd which played the the advantage of the Illinois squad. You could tell that both teams were anticipating a grudge match and even in the pregame warm-ups players seemed ready for a slug fest.  The Terrapins were riding a seven game win streak earlier this month and that seemed to all unravel after losing to Michigan State.  If they wanted to get back on the right track they would definitely need to win this game.  The Fighting Illini had different plans for the afternoon and wanted to put the rest of the conference on notice that they were not pushovers and were going to compete.

Madison Square Garden was the scene for the Big Ten Super Saturday. The Illinois Fighting Illini faces off with the Maryland Terrapins. Photo Cal Griffin for ATH

Illinois was looking to snap a 15-game skid against Top 25 teams, aiming for its first win over a ranked opponent since defeating Iowa who was No. 20 way back in 2016.  On the other end, Maryland was looking to continue playing great basketball, with the exception of their recent loss to the Spartans was playing great basketball.  When they are clicking it’s scary.  They rebound the ball! The Terps remain one of the best rebounding teams, ranking 4th in the nation.

Maryland’s Aaron Wiggins goes up for the layup against a stingy Illinois defense. Photo ATH Cal Griffin

Maryland came out hot early on and managed to get out to an 11 point lead in the first half.  After a poor start, Illinois managed to cut the lead but still trailed 34-30 after the first half.  The Terrapins managed to shoot a respectable 45% from the field and converted on 11-12 from the charity stripe. Although they let the lead slip, Maryland was confident that they would be able to hold Illinois off for a much needed win.  

To go through the kind of Year we’ve had and guys still show up every day. They continue to work and continue to buy in… it brings a smile to my face.  It’s all about that locker room today.

Illinois Fighting Illini Head Coach Brad Underwood

In the second half the Illinois Fighting Illini ramped up their intensity and forced the Terps into turnover after turnover.  A Tevian Jones 3 pointer late in the second half made the Illini faithful believers that they may actually leave the Garden with a win.  Illinois started to protect their possessions and really be mindful of getting a quality shot on their end of the court.  The Fighting Illini shot 50% from the field while shooting 43% from the arc.  They increased their defensive pressure and forced a remarkable 21 turnovers for the game.  That recipe spelled disaster for the Maryland Terrapins as they were defeated 78-67 at the Garden.  The Fighting Illini were led by Ayo Dosunmu who poured in 20 Points and 6 Assists and got a serge from their bench with Andres Feliz and Tevian Jones contributing 15 and 18 Points, respectively.

Assistant coach Orlando Antigua comes back to New York City and claims a much needed win for Illinois. Photo Cal Griffin for ATH

New York City native Orlando Antigua is an assistant coach for the Illinois team and it looked like many of the players drew up some inspiration from trying to get him the win.  Many remember Antigua from his playing days at NYC powerhouse St. Raymond’s (BX) and later at Pittsburgh.  Maybe he has been able to pass along some gems to inspire his team.

Illinois Head Coach Brad Underwood giving his team the vision to go out and claim a victory. Photo by Cal Griffin for ATH

This Illinois win showed a lot of grit and determination.  Even though they weren’t doing that well this year the stuck with each other and fought until the final buzzer sounded off.  What better arena than Madison Square Garden to get the incredible win.  Maryland struggled with transition defense, giving up 27 fast-break points to Illinois. The Terps also committed 21 turnovers against Illinois, including seven in the final six minutes.  After the a loss like this it’s easy to feel down and out.  Coach Underwood of Illinois was almost in tears describing how bad they needed and wanted this win.  “This win is for the locker room…  Yeah we executed and made some shots, but to me it’s more about perseverance and showing up and competing” says Coach Underwood.  This wasn’t quite the Cinderella story in the NCAA tournament but it bodes well for college basketball and shows people that rankings mean absolutely nothing.  Any team can get beaten and one the referee throws up the first jump ball it’s all or nothing.