In three consecutive possessions early in the second half, Maryland basketball center Jalen Smith would record a block, a three and an electrifying dunk. Smith was assertive on both ends of the court, and his elite play would pay off for the Terps throughout the game. In his three possession sequence, Smith willed Maryland to a second half lead that it would refuse to lose.
“Stix was Stix, it felt like he was getting every rebound, blocking shots,” said Head Coach Mark Turgeon.
From a flat first half performance to an improved second half showing, the Terps were able to slide past Rutgers to win their 13th game at home by a 56-51 scoreline. The two sides both played impressive defense, but Maryland ultimately converted the final shots that mattered most as time winded down — with Smith’s impact leading the way.
After going up 14-6 at the 13-minute mark, the Terps scored only six more points for the rest of the first half. Smith carried much of the offensive weight, leading Maryland with eight first half points — six of which came from behind the arc.
“He’s just really confident right now,” said Turgeon. “Some of those shots he made were really tough shots, so it’s good to see.”
Rutgers relied on the shooting of Akwasi Yeboah to overtake the Terps early. Yeboah exploded and made his first three attempts from behind the arc. The senior forward led both teams in scoring at the end of the period with 11.
Outside of the perimeter scoring of Yeboah, the Scarlet Knights found more luck closer to the basket, doing much of their damage in the midrange area. Despite mustering a tepid 20 points in the first half on a 24% clip, Maryland only faced a five-point deficit entering halftime.
The Terps brought a brand new offensive intensity in the second half. Maryland’s 20 point first half performance was topped 12 minutes into the ensuing period, as the Terps rattled off a blistering 24-11 run, defined by back-to-back three point shots by Aaron Wiggins and Anthony Cowan.
A seven point lead, a struggling Rutgers offense and little time left on the clock seemed to be perfect conditions for a Maryland victory. Instead, the Scarlet Knights dug deeper and looked to spoil Maryland’s perfect record at home.
Ron Harper Jr. and Montez Mathis delivered. In a 10-3 run that lasted for two minutes, the guard combo evened the score at 47.
“I could hear [Rutgers Head Coach] Piekill down [on the bench] when they were making the run [saying]: ‘this is what we do’,” said Turgeon. “That’s just who they are. They don’t ever quit.”
The Scarlet Knights’ defense reemerged down the stretch, and the fast break offense was clicking alongside it. With the game tied at 47 with four minutes remaining, Maryland finished the job at the charity stripe by drawing fouls. Cowan notched five of the teams last nine points at the free throw line. Following their game tying run, Rutgers could only squeak out four points against a suffocating Maryland defense.
“We figured out how to win the game and we played a much better second half,” said Turgeon “I’m proud of our guys.”