Immediately after the final buzzer sounded at the RAC, the Rutgers student section stormed the court after an impressive Scarlet Knights win. It signaled an important resume-building victory for Rutgers and another concerning loss for Maryland, as the Terps once again strayed away from their defensive identity. Compounding their defensive issues, Maryland shot 19 percent from behind the arc, continuing the trend of perimeter shooting struggles this season.
“We’re not guarding, we guarded the last ten minutes of the Minnesota game and we really haven’t guarded for three and a half games,” head coach Mark Turgeon said.
Stifling defense has been Maryland’s calling card all season-long. However, Tuesday night at the RAC marked another concerning defensive effort. Several times this season, Maryland’s defense has carried them to victory when the offense has let them down.
However, for the fourth consecutive game, Maryland surrendered more than 72 points and led for less than a minute. Rutgers was in control for a majority of the game in the 78-67 win, preventing Maryland from clinching a share of the Big Ten Regular Season title for the second consecutive contest.
Guard Jacon Young was suspended the last time the two teams met. Tonight, Young came out on Rutgers’ Senior Night, tallying eight of his team-high 17 points in the opening ten minutes. His success from behind the arc energized the capacity crowd, a nightmare scenario for Maryland. After the Terps took a brief 4-2 lead, the Scarlet Knights executed a 17-4 run over the ensuing eight minutes. During that stretch, the Terps turned the ball over four times, which allowed Rutgers to push the pace in transition and finish easy baskets.
“Tonight we let [missed shots] effect our transition defense, we put our heads down when we missed a shot, guys get frustrated,” Turgeon said. “If we miss a shot, we gotta run our ass back and play defense.”
And on many of the possessions when the Terps didn’t turn the ball over, they settled for perimeter jumpers — unable to find an answer for the Scarlet Knights on either end of the floor. With the Scarlet Knights taking a commanding 19-8 lead, Maryland responded with their best five-minute stretch of the game.
During that span, the Terps outscored Rutgers 12-4, led by guards Anthony Cowan Jr. and Darryl Morsell. Over the remainder of the first half, Maryland’s ball security improved, but the Terps still struggled from behind the arc — shooting an abysmal 2-16. Despite shooting 34 percent from the field overall and 12.5 percent from three, the Terps only trailed by six at the half, in large part due to Cowan’s success.
However, in the second half, Rutgers jumped all over Maryland, executing a 9-2 run in the opening three minutes. Akwasi Yeboah and Ron Harper Jr. drilled open threes, putting the Scarlet Knights back on top by double-digits. The consecutive buckets established a trend in the second half, where consistent defensive lapses allowed Rutgers consistent open looks.
Maryland followed the Scarlet Knights run with consecutive baskets by center Jalen Smith. Its success was minute, though, as Rutgers jumped all over the Terps in transition once again, executing a 13-5 run to take a 57-40 lead. Back-to-back layups from Yeboah and Young capped off the run, seemingly taking the life out of another potential Terps comeback. During that run, the Scarlet Knights used the same formula that granted them success all night-long precision passing and stifling defense.
As the second half progressed, Rutgers continued to extend its lead, making Maryland pay for both inefficient offense and faulty defense. With eight minutes remaining, Montez Mathis buried a transition layup off another Terps turnover, giving the Scarlet Knights a commanding 20-point lead. Two minutes later, Mathis beat Cowan on a backdoor cut, soaring to the basket for an easy slam. The emphatic dunk further energized the RAC and represented another example of Maryland’s inability to lock in defensively for much of the night.
The final 6:16 was a mere formality, with many of the Terps starters sitting on the bench for half of the remaining action. Tuesday’s loss signaled another missed opportunity for Maryland, and another reason for potential concern about Maryland’s play heading into the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.
“We got to get back to what our identity needs to be, we got time to get ourselves right before Sunday and I imagine we will,” Turgeon said.