COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WCIA) — The Big Ten season is upon us, even if only for two games. No. 16 Illinois tips off its conference schedule Friday night visiting No. 22 Maryland in a Top 25 showdown in front of a sold out student center at Xfinity Center. The Illini (6-1) are playing their first true road game of the season against a surprise Terrapins (7-0) team that remains unbeaten under first year head coach Kevin Willard.
“Kevin’s doing an outstanding job in his first year,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. “He’s really established an identity very quickly with that group. They’re playing extremely hard.”
Illinois will be more than tested the next two games with a trip to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday to face another undefeated team in No. 2 Texas in the Jimmy V Classic. Playing against top tier teams and on the road is a new experience for the team’s four freshmen, something veteran Matthew Mayer says will present a challenge for the newcomers.
“When they start going on a run and the crowd is crazy, it’s already hard to get ourselves together when they’re going on a run,” Mayer said. “You gotta really dig deep and fight and not give into that negativity. Cause when they go on an 8-0 run it feels like you’re getting beat by 30.”
Maryland is the only Big Ten team Illinois head coach Brad Underwood has not beat on its home court, losing both of his previous meetings against the Terps in College Park. Illinois and Maryland tip-off at 8 p.m. on BTN, with the Terps two-point favorites going in.