Demetri McCamey, who scored a game-high 20 points for Illinois,… (AP photo )
NEW YORK — Maryland players didn't appear dejected as they filed out of Madison Square Garden on Friday night in their black sweat suits after dropping their second straight game to a Top 25 team.
It's not that the Terps hadn't been eager to win. It's just that the team realizes it is — as coach Gary Williams put it afterward — "a work in progress."
Williams told his players he was proud of them after their 80-76 loss to No. 13 Illinois in the consolation game of the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
Trailing by 12 in the second half, the Terps (3-2) made it interesting. Maryland closed to within 75-71 on an up-and-under move by Jordan Williams (15 points) and a pair of free throws from the sophomore forward with 1:27 left. Freshman guard Terrell Stoglin (17 points) cut the margin to 78-76 on a 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining before Illinois sealed it on free throws.
"I'm really proud of the team," Gary Williams said. "Both nights here, we could have folded. We're a work in progress, no doubt about it. But we're a pretty good basketball team."
The Terps had lost to No. 4 Pittsburgh, 79-70, in the tournament's opening round Thursday night. Maryland (3-2) hopes the two defeats will prove as harmless as a similar experience last season in the Maui Invitational.
Like this tournament, the Hawaii games were early nonconference tests against strong opponents. Maryland fell to Cincinnati and Wisconsin but regained its footing and improved over the course of the season.
"Coming into the season early and playing two Top 25 teams was great for us," said Maryland guard Sean Mosley (14 points), who fouled out in the final seconds Friday. "We were right there. We've just to keep fighting."
Illinois made 10 of 19 3-point attempts. That, coupled with its superior size, made it a difficult matchup for the Terps.
Maryland trailed by eight early in the second half but regained the lead by applying full-court pressure. The Terps cut the deficit to 46-45 on Adrian Bowie's drive off a Terps steal. Dino Gregory's bank shot put the Terps on top 47-46.
Gregory, the senior co-captain, played a significant role in the game. He had recorded only one double-figure scoring game in his career before Friday. He finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds against Illinois.
"We need that from Dino every game — to get 10 points and 10 rebounds," said Jordan Williams, who is Maryland's leading scorer and frequently finds himself double-teamed.
Maryland needed Gregory and sophomore James Padgett (six points) to play big because of Williams' foul trouble.
The sophomore picked up two quick fouls and was relegated to the bench. "I want to stop doing dumb fouls," he said.
He took just one shot in the first half and didn't score in nine minutes. But he scored 15 points in the second half.
Illinois had lost in overtime to Texas the previous night, and coach Bruce Weber had expressed concern about fatigue. That might have been a factor when Maryland went to its full-court pressure in the second half, forcing Illinois turnovers.
"We didn't get back to the hotel until after 1:00 [Thursday] night," Weber said.
Maryland couldn't hold its brief second-half lead, as Illinois pulled away behind senior guard Demetri McCamey (20 points).
The Terps struggled at times to defend both the arc and the inside against a balanced Illinois team. McCamey missed only two of his nine shots and was 3-for-3 from beyond the arc.
But the Terps made it close at the end.
"We're sad that we lost, but have confidence that we're going to do good," said Stoglin, who was on the floor in the game's final minutes. "It meant a lot that he [Gary Williams] showed confidence in keeping me in at the end of the game," the freshman said.