Maryland will wear a heavy favorite tag once again in the Cancun Challenge championship game, but that title hasn't exactly fit the Terrapins well early this season.
The second-ranked Terrapins will try to remain unbeaten but hope to do so in more convincing fashion Wednesday night when they meet a Rhode Island team playing without its biggest star.
Each slipped through the semifinal round at Riviera Maya on Tuesday. It wasn't all that surprising that Rhode Island edged TCU, but it was fairly shocking how much trouble Maryland had against Illinois State.
Maryland (4-0) needed late 3-pointers from Jared Nickens and Rasheed Sulaimon paired with stiff defense down the stretch to hold off the Redbirds for a 77-66 win.
The Terrapins trailed with six minutes left in what could be considered their third consecutive tight game, coming on the heels of a 75-71 victory over Georgetown and a 65-58 win over Rider last week.
''Opponents are coming after us," coach Mark Turgeon said.
Turgeon called Illinois State a "tough matchup" given the Redbirds' speed across the board. What made it more difficult was 2-for-18 shooting from 3-point range before Nickens and Sulaimon provided some late relief.
Maryland has made 5 of 22 3-pointers in each of its last two games, and the Terrapins are shooting just 30.1 percent from deep this season - down from 37.6 a year ago.
''It is unsettling because we have good shooters,'' Turgeon said. ''Maybe the pace of the game had something to do with it, because that was a tremendous pace. I just knew if we hit a couple, we would pull away, and we finally did."
The late spurt gives Maryland a chance to win its third early-season tournament in as many years. The Terrapins, who are ranked as high as No. 2 for the first time since March 4, 2002, won the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City last season and the 2013 Paradise Jam in St. Thomas.
Sulaimon, a transfer from Duke, has played at least 35 minutes in each of Maryland's three close wins. He led the Terrapins with 18 points while Melo Trimble added 15.
Rhode Island (3-1) might have more pressing issues in its backcourt with guard E.C. Matthews sidelined the rest of the season after tearing his ACL in practice last week. Matthews averaged 16.9 points last season, leaving a gaping hole in the Rams' offensive plans.
Rhode Island, though, advanced after a 66-60 win over TCU on Tuesday thanks to a 3-pointer from Four McGlynn and a blocked shot from Hassan Martin in the final minute.
McGlynn led all scorers with 18 points, making 3 of 7 from 3-point range, while Jared Terrell added 12 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double.
Rhode Island has lost 28 of its last 29 games against ranked opponents, but that win came over No. 21 Nebraska 66-62 in overtime on Nov. 22, 2014. The Rams' last win over a top-5 team was an 80-75 victory over No. 2 Kansas in the second round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament.