Now riding on the wave of their first winning streak of the season and their first semblance of momentum, the Terps have no other choice but to take their recent success and utilize it to make these last few games count.
The narrative all season has centered around the Terps ability to build on what it has within the Big Ten and maintain considerable success when they could capture it. That narrative remains as the Terps are just weeks away from the big dance in March and are coming off of three impressive wins. Only now, the Terps finally have something positive to focus on ahead of their contest against Rutgers.
Fortunately for Maryland (13-10, 7-9 B1G), its second meeting against Rutgers (12-8, 8-8 B1G) provides a reasonable opportunity for it to snowball the fortunes of its previous two games.
“We’ve made a lot of changes since that game,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “I don’t even think they could watch the old film and get anything out of it, we’ve changed so much.”
There’s no denying that Maryland is at a completely different place than they were when these two first met back in December. The Terps first meeting against the Scarlet Knights was their first Big Ten matchup of the year and the contest served as a signifier of what was to come for the small team.
In a game that was plagued by Maryland’s inability to create shots on offense, failure to properly guard off-ball on defense and a spectacular shooting display by Ron Harper Jr, Maryland was outmatched from the start. It was a humbling experience for the defending Big Ten champs, but as the season trudged on, the Terps quickly realized it certainly wasn’t going to be the last of its kind. There would be more offensive dominations and long shooting slumps but there would also be several massive victories in between.
Ultimately, the struggles that persisted throughout eventually materialized to a guard-focused team now poised to defend the likes of Harper, Myles Johnson and Geo Baker. And an offensively potent squad now led by a scorching hot Aaron Wiggins who’s averaged 20 points on beautiful splits in his last three outings, along with Eric Ayala who’s provided some scoring of his own.
“I think ever since the Penn State game we’ve had good attitudes, positive energy,” Turgeon said. “I think we’re a confident team. We’re not overconfident, but we know we got to play well and extremely well tomorrow to win. But we believe in ourselves.”
Rutgers has changed too. Since December the Scarlet Knights have lost their ranked billing and suffered a five-game losing streak that has thrusted them into the middle of the conference standings.
In that time, Rutgers hasn’t flourished from three-point range either, averaging well below 35 percent in its last 11 contests. Harper has declined as well, averaging 11 points on 37% shooting from the field in the month of February. In their strong 6-1 start to the season, the Scarlet Knights regularly rained threes to the tune of 40 and at one time even 50 percent with Harper averaging around 20 points per contest.
With the Terps on an uptick and Rutgers on a rapid decline, the ideal outcome would be a continued win streak, but as these past few months have demonstrated, ideal is far from the norm.
“I always tell guys when things aren’t going well I’ll try to figure it out,” Turgeon said. “And I think every little step we’ve made we’ve gotten a little bit better.”