Maryland men’s basketball utilizes suffocating defense dispatching Rutgers for fourth consecutive win

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Rutgers (12-9, 8-9 B1G) guard Paul Mulcahy dribbled into the lane looking for space as Darryl Morsell was draped to his hip not allowing the guard any room to maneuver. Unable to navigate any space, Donta Scott intercepted Mulcahy’s pass.

Scott then quickly dribbled up the floor finding Eric Ayala on the right wing who caught the pass in stride, took one dribble, and drilled the three from the right wing, extending Maryland’s (14-10, 8-9 B1G) lead to 40-26 with 14:07 remaining. 

That quick transition from stifling defense to fast-break offense was the one of the main catalysts for the Terps’ success in the 68-59 victory. Maryland converted 20 points off of 15 Rutgers turnovers, as the Terps made the Scarlet Knights pay for their mistakes throughout. 

“We just got a lot of deflections, our double teams are better, our rotations are better,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We flew around, we have to fly around. To be able to score after turnovers is a big step for us.”

All five starters finished in double-figures for the first time since Feb. 26, 2020 on the road at Minnesota. Ayala led the way with 14 points, while Aaron Wiggins added 13, Hakim Hart and Morsell tacked on 12, while Scott rounded out the starters with 11.

Rutgers struggled mightily to develop any flow offensively in large part due to Maryland’s effective communication and perfectly timed rotations. All five Terps on the floor were on one accord defensively, allowing the Scarlet Knights minimal uncontested shot opportunities.

“We played with unbelievable toughness,” Turgeon said. “It was terrific defense and we work on it everyday and the guys have bought into it. Our guys are dialed into our rotations, we know how we have to play, we call it Maryland defense.”

At the outset, Rutgers found uncontested shot opportunities playing through Myles Johnson and Jacob Young. That tandem scored four of Rutgers’ first six baskets as the Scarlet Knights started 6-9 from the field. However, the final 12:26 of the opening 20 minutes, Maryland played stellar defense and scored timely buckets orchestrating an 18-6 run.

Wiggins started the run displaying both his patience and comfortability utilizing a shot-fake to get Geo Baker in the air and then confidently knocking down the mid-range jumper. Scott followed that with back-to-back buckets, the first on a second-chance opportunity and the second driving past Cliff Omoryui for the layup.

After the Scarlet Knights trimmed the deficit on a Baker jumper, the Terps responded with a 9-0 run, giving them their first double-digit advantage with 1:51 remaining in the first half. Ayala scored five of those nine points off turnovers, while Wiggins and Galin Smith added baskets to provide Maryland with some added cushion.

“Our whole team is locked in defensively and for us to be great everybody has to be on the same page 1 through 5,” Ayala said. “Defensively that’s definitely become our identity.”

Entering halftime, the Terps possessed a 28-20 lead, surrendering the lowest point total they have in a half this season. That momentum carried into the early minutes of the second half as Wiggins and Hart both connected from deep, extending the Terps lead to double-digits. Similar to the first half, Rutgers couldn’t develop any flow offensively and as a result couldn’t trim the Terps’ lead.

“It kind of set the tone for how the rest of the game was gonna go,” Wiggins said. “We were able to come out, get a couple stops and execute on offense. It helped lead to the win that we got.”

However, that changed beginning with 10:40 remaining, as the Scarlet Knights executed an 11-2 run, which trimmed Maryland’s lead to 47-41 with 7:37 remaining. Maryland’s offense became stagnant during that period and struggled to protect the ball, as Rutgers made the Terps pay for their mistakes.

Sensing Rutgers was gaining much-needed momentum, the Terps responded right back with a pair of baskets from Morsell — who battled a shoulder injury throughout — and a layup from Ayala. Morsell’s first basket came off a crafty drive around Omoruyi, while the second came on a dunk in transition off a Rutgers turnover. 

“He’s just special like that,” Turgeon said of Morsell. “We were really struggling, we couldn’t make a shot, Darryl got the three-point play and then the layup in transition, which was good.”

As Maryland’s offense converted timely hoops, the defense clamped down not allowing Rutgers to convert a field goal for 6:21. That suffocating defense when it mattered most, complemented by clutch free-throw shooting, propelled the Terps to an impressive win, which capped off a pivotal week for momentum with four consecutive wins in eight days.

The Terps now have five Quad 1 wins, just one of 12 teams in the nation to do so, helping to bolster their resume for the NCAA Tournament. Maryland is also tied for second in Division I with four Quad 1 road wins. 

“Today really changes a lot because we beat a really good team that’s been playing well in their building and they were ready for us,” Turgeon said. “It’s just the maturation of our team, we’ve gotten better. I still think there’s better days ahead for this team.”

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