Before the game, a friend asked me if I thought Maryland was going to win tonight. I politely said that games aren't always about winning and losing and that I was going to support the team I wanted to win.
"Illinois is gonna win," he said.
Well I'm glad I stuck to my guns (kind of) because the Terps came out with the win, 69-61.
OK, Illinois is unranked and we beat them at home. Normally, that kind of game would not mean anything. But for this basketball team - a team with two losses in their previous two games against good teams - a couple things came out of the victory.
Here's the stats. Here are the statements, however mild they may be:
- The freshmen can play. Braxton Dupree made his second career start with 14 points and 5 rebounds. He's as solid as a rock in the middle: I mean, he's not going to be very mobile on defense or rebounding, but at least you'll know where he is. Meanwhile, Cliff Tucker came in for 12 minutes and ended up 4-of-6 with 9 points. From what I saw, the boy hits open shots, but also can create opportunities himself. I predict that he may overtake Landon Milbourne in the starting lineup if he continues to play like he did tonight.
- James Gist will take over if he has to. It was crazy. I couldn't believe that Gist, a player that often underachieves and disappears for stretches at a time, was owning the post. He had 12 points and 9 rebounds, which are unspectacular stats, but we all know that oncourt presence aren't always reflected in the numbers. He looked every bit the athlete he is, jumping around and hustling for the ball, trying to grab spectacular alley-oops (classic one on Illinois) and moving around the slower Illini forwards. He also stepped up his defense with 4 blocks. More proof of his D? Center Shaun Pruitt and forward Brian Randle, the top Illini frontcourt players finished a combined 6-24 from the field. Now that sounds like senior leadership. Especially on a night when Greivis was off (2-for-14).
- We can beat someone, as in a REAL someone. Illinois projects as middle-of-the-pack squad in the Big Ten. The only other team they've lost to is Duke. Hey, it's better than beating Concordia or Northeastern. At least the Terps played someone relevant and won.
Soon we'll be taking a closer look at the upcoming ACC schedule and how the competition is going to stack up. But although it's not much, beating Illinois gives this young Terrapins team a bit of credibility that they really need. I'm glad Gary Williams checked his to-do list.