Maryland basketball (23-6, 13-5 B1G) travels to Piscataway with a one-game lead in the Big Ten and the ability to control their own destiny to close out the regular season. Rutgers (18-11, 9-9 B1G) enters Tuesday’s contest as losers of three straight all against ranked opponents. However, the Scarlet Knights are 17-1 at home, feeding off the energy of their fans at the RAC.
Feb. 4 at the Xfinity Center, the Terps battled back in the second half for a 56-51 victory in a defensive battle. Guard Anthony Cowan and center Jalen Smith combined for 31 points, while guard Darryl Morsell also contributed 14 points.
Defense has been Maryland’s calling card all season-long. However, the past three games the Terps defense has been struggling. Each game, the Terps have surrendered more than 70 points, while opponents are shooting an average of 41.5 percent behind the arc.
“The last three games 78, 79 and 73 that’s not us,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Late in the game against Minnesota, we guarded, and we competed. We got to do it for 40 minutes.”
Fortunately for the Terps, Tuesday represents a great opportunity to bounce back defensively. Rutgers is the worst three-point shooting team in the Big Ten, shooting 30% percent from behind the arc. The Scarlet Knights are also one of the lowest scoring teams in the conference, one of just five teams averaging below 70 points per game.
“We gotta be locked in early, especially on the road we don’t want to get behind on the road at a place like the RAC,” Morsell said. “Just being locked in and taking your individual matchups personally and finishing every defensive possession with a rebound that’s key.”
While the Scarlet Knights struggle offensively at times, Steve Pikiell’s squad plays tremendous defense. In the first half of the first meeting, Rutgers held Maryland to 25% shooting and just 20 points — its second lowest total in a half this season. Rutgers consistently plays with active hands on defense, led by guards Caleb McConnell and Jacob Young. In addition to their strong perimeter defense, the Scarlet Knights’ trio of Ron Harper, Akwasi Yeboah and Myles Johnson are strong post defenders.
One of the keys for Maryland offensively will be Cowan ending his shooting slump. Over the past three games, Cowan is 0-12 from beyond the arc — but he’s still scored over double-figures in each game. However, Cowan is at his best when he’s not forcing the issue, taking what the defense gives him. In the first meeting against Rutgers he finished 8-9 at the line, and he’ll look to have similar success tonight in a hostile environment.
Returning to their core defensive principles for 40 minutes and finding a consistent rhythm offensively will be pivotal for Maryland to get back into the win column.