Gary Williams wanted to find out where his Terps really were with two games at Madison Square Garden against stiff competition this week.
The verdict for the Maryland coach was a competitive — and incomplete — team with room to grow as the season moves forward.
The Terps struggled to defend the perimeter and couldn’t do enough in the second half, falling to Illinois, 80-76, in the consolation game of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
Maryland continually allowed open looks to Demetri McCamey (2o points), Tyler Griffey (three 3-pointers), and D.J. Richardson (three 3-pointers), as the Illini shot 47.6 percent (10 of 21) from beyond the arc, and the Terps only 5-for-18 on the other end.
Five Maryland players reached double-figure scoring, freshman Terrell Stoglin leading the way with 17 points, but forward Jordan Williams’ 15 second-half points weren’t enough as Maryland fell to 3-2 on the season.
The final 11:28 of the first half was a victory in and of itself after Williams was stricken with two fouls and banished to the bench as the Terps trailed 20-16. Using a patchwork frontcourt that included Berend Weijs, James Padgett, Hauk Palsson, and a foul-troubled Dino Gregory, Maryland managed to maintain the same deficit, entering the intermission trailing 40-36.
The two-game trip to Madison Square Garden was a perfect example of how crucial it is for Williams to stay clear of foul trouble this season. Aside from Tucker’s improved offensive output, the Terps not only lack the perimeter scoring to compete against sharp-shooting teams but also an offensive presence in the paint when the 6-foot-10 sophomore is not on the floor.
Not a good formula for success.
And yet it was a formula the Terps survived in the first half, keeping themselves in position to make a second-half run. Maryland briefly took a 47-46 lead following a 9-0 run, but the Illini responded with a 13-2 run to regain the lead and seize control for the rest of the night.
Despite Williams’ return in the second half, the Terps simply couldn’t generate enough offense despite the brief run midway through the second half, failing to knock down perimeter shots to compete with the sharp-shooting Illini.
It’s the exact type of game the Terps will struggle with this year. Maryland simply doesn’t have the shooters to compete against teams knocking down outside shots.
Maryland will undoubtedly be disappointed with an 0-2 performance in New York City, but neither loss should deter anyone from thinking this Maryland team can’t be pretty good by January or February.
Of course, last season’s Terps went to Hawaii and played two clunkers against Cincinnati and Wisconsin, looking far worse than they did against two top-25 programs in two nights. It offers perspective to how little we can really take from early-season tournaments and how they project a team’s aptitude.
Is the 0-2 showing disappointing? Of course.
But the reality is the Terps played two teams that were simply better than them in the middle of November. They lost, but competed at a high level.
And that bodes well for January and February with Gary Williams leading the way.