When fifth-year senior point guard Sam Maniscalco announced he was transferring to Illinois from Bradley for his final season, most fans figured he would add some toughness and leadership to a young team starving for those qualities. Not many could have predicted the profound impact he’s had on the Illini so far.
Maniscalco scored 24 points to help lead the Illini to a 71-62 road victory over the Maryland Terrapins on Day One of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Maniscalco scored 15 of his 24 points in the second half, including several big three-pointers and four free throws to seal the deal at the end.
The Illini shook off a rough start and a hot shooting night from Terrapins guard Terrell Stoglin (25 points) to move to 7-0. The win was coach Bruce Weber’s 200th at Illinois.
Illinois fell behind early as they struggled to connect from the outside. For the game, the Illini shot just 7-23 (30.4%) from deep. Maniscalco and junior guard Brandon Paul (17 points) helped keep Illinois in the game as they trailed by four at the half after trailing by as many as nine.
Trailing by four with just under 15 minutes to go, Paul connected on a layup and Maniscalco followed with a three to give Illinois their first lead of the game since Paul’s dunk put them up 2-0. The Illini would never relinquish the lead the rest of the game.
Free throw shooting would be key for Illinois down the stretch, as they would go a perfect 10-10 in the second half. They went 18-20 overall, a nice surprise for a team that has missed its fair share of clutch free throws over the years.
Back to Maniscalco, he is now averaging 13.3 points in 25.0 minutes this season. He’s knocking down 55% of his shots and 42% from deep. While the competition has not been great, I’m beginning to believe that he can be an effective player in the Big Ten.
While this Maryland team is nowhere near as talented as past team’s, any true road win for a young squad like Illinois is a good one. I was impressed by how they fought back after the tough start, and how they did not fold when Maryland pressured them late. It was a nice win, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Other observations:
- Besides his superb on-court production, Maniscalco’s leadership was on full display last night. After big man Meyers Leonard erased a Maryland shot into the stands, he stared down the man he just blocked and appeared like he was going to taunt him. Sam got in there and pulled Leonard away before he could receive a technical.
- Speaking of Leonard (12 points, six boards, three blocks), this kid could be really special. His athleticism is off the charts and he’s showing major improvement in the post game. I like how hard he’s battling in the post, and I especially like how he re-posts after getting doubled and passing out of it. He showed a nice little jump hook last night, and if he continues developing his game, he will have a very bright NBA future. I would like to see Illinois make a more concerted effort to get him the ball down low though.
- Paul’s 5-14 may not be pretty, but he was all over the floor. His energy kept Illinois in the game in the first half. He was aggressive on offense and on the glass, pulling down several offensive rebounds and keeping plays alive. More of that please.
- Rough game for D.J. Richardson. He didn’t shoot well and was torched by Stoglin. It happens.
- Reserve point guard Tracy Abrams was the only bench guy to get significant minutes, but he was awfully impressive. He only scored two points, but he dished out four assists and pulled down four rebounds. He did get into foul trouble, but he’s young and will learn to play defense with his feet instead of his hands.
- Not much to say about any of the other players. Tyler Griffey struggled with his shot, but he did hit one big three in the second half. The other guys just didn’t get much time.
- There were a couple plays that really stuck out to me. One, there was some great hi-low action between Griffey and Leonard that led to a key dunk late in the second half. Another was Maniscalco’s offensive rebound of his own miss with just under a minute left and the Illini nursing a five-point lead. If Maryland grabs that rebound and comes down and hits a three, the game could have swung in their favor. Instead, Sam gets the board and Richardson ends up knocking down two free throws to ice the game.
- Illinois will now face Gonzaga on Saturday at Assembly Hall. Should be a good one.
About the Author
Written by Jason Patt
My name is Jason Patt and I recently graduated from the University of Illinois. I received a degree in Sports Management and also minored in Communication and Business. I am an avid follower of Illinois sports and also most major Chicago sports teams. Along with blogging about Illini basketball here, I'm an editor at Bulls 101.