Dominating defense and Sellers leads Maryland over Rutgers, 81-62

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

In the final minutes of the first half, Rutgers’ Antonia Bates dribbled around the arc, sizing up the Terps’ set defense. In a flash, Bates pivoted to her left – angling and firing a pass across the perimeter. 

Bates was fast, but Maryland’s Shyanne Sellers was faster. 

With a running start, Sellers accelerated, intercepting and stealing the pass before running down the court for a breakaway, coast-to-coast transition layup.

The play served as a theme for the night, as it was the Terps’ near-flawless defense that stood out and ignited a leveled scoring attack offensively. In front of a passionate home crowd at the XFINITY Center, Maryland dominated with a 81-62 statement win, simply overpowering Rutgers on both ends of the court.

The Scarlet Knights got on the board first with a Chyna Cornwell layup, but it was all Terps throughout the remainder of the first quarter – blitzing Rutgers with a speedy 14-4 scoring run.

After finishing with a season-low zero points in last Sunday’s Senior Day win over Penn State, Bri McDaniel looked to rebound this Wednesday with constant attacks right out of the gate. It worked, as the breakout sophomore led an offensive clinic in the opening minutes, with four quick points in a 30-second span – showing off early with a pair of free throws and a driving layup to boot. 

McDaniel’s scoring surge provided a boost of momentum, making way for other Terps to follow suit.

First came a wave of timely triples from Brinae Alexander. Then, an array of jumpers by Jakia Brown-Turner and Lavender Briggs. Finally, a midrange pull-up and pair of free throws to follow from Shyanne Sellers – providing the Terps with a two-possession lead as the first quarter concluded.

But the Terps were far from done. Just ten seconds into the second quarter, Sellers picked up right where she left off, knocking down a quick three-pointer. The one-sided scoring continued just minutes later – as a pair of Sellers’ free throws, combined with a triple and jumper from McDaniel, capped yet another 14-0 Maryland run. 

The home team’s defense stepped up big throughout the dominant scoring run, as perimeter swarming and paint pressure silenced Rutgers to zero made field goals (and zero points) for more than seven straight minutes.

Midway through the second quarter, the XFINITY Center crowd went silent, as Lavender Briggs went down with a non-contact knee injury – a scary moment and unfortunate exit. Averaging nine points and five rebounds per game as one of the primary scorers for the Terps, the injury served as a massive blow (especially considering the team struggled throughout her prior absence in early non-conference play).

“It’s draining, seeing your teammates go [down],” stressed McDaniel. “We just decided to come together and play for her. She would want us to keep playing and win the game for her, so that’s what we did.

Even without Briggs, Maryland still dominated to finish the first half – closing out its best and most complete quarter of the season on both ends of the court. Led by key transition scoring and a combined 14 second-quarter points from Sellers and McDaniel alone, the Terps cashed in once more offensively. Another masterclass was brewing on the defensive end as well, as Maryland didn’t allow Rutgers a single three-point field goal (0% from deep on 0/8 shooting) throughout the entirety of the first half, simply pressuring and out-hustling the visiting Scarlet Knights to loose balls and rebounds.

“I feel we’re just staying connected and playing Maryland defense,” said McDaniel. “…It was just us coming together and playing as a team on defense. It helped us during that [first half] stretch.”

Another lockdown defensive play followed just before the halftime buzzer sounded, and Maryland found itself with a widened 23-point lead heading into the break.

After starting the second half in place of Briggs, Allie Kubek stepped up offensively. The redshirt junior proceeded to single-handedly lead the Terps on a 5-0 run, with a free throw and back-to-back power layups – both assisted by Sellers who (with 14 points, five assists, and five rebounds), like usual, found herself on ‘triple-double watch.’

“Allie gave us a great lift,” head coach Brenda Frese emphasized. “[It] started with her defense, which led to her offense.”

But in sharp contrast to the first half, Maryland’s fast-paced scoring was reciprocated by Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights more than tripled – and surpassed – their second-quarter points total (4) in an electric five-minute span throughout the third quarter. 

The pace of play slowed considerably throughout the remainder of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter, with a drizzle of spotty buckets from both teams.

Efficient outside shooting from Rutgers put points on the board and narrowed the deficit to as little as 12. But despite the Terps still not having Briggs, the Scarlet Knights just simply couldn’t stop Maryland’s varied scoring attack. An array of buckets from Sellers (21 pts, 10 reb, 8 ast.), Alexander (12 pts.), Brown-Turner (11 pts, 8 reb.), and Kubek (16 pts.) officially put things away late in the game – notching another ‘W’ on the board for the Terps.

“Everyone on [this team] can score, so [other teams] have to play us honestly now,” said Sellers. “…There’s no easy way to guard us.”

With the victory, Maryland improves its overall record to 16-10, while moving above .500 in Big Ten conference play (8-7) for the first time in nearly a month.

“The accountability, the responsibility, it’s been fun,” said Frese. “[The players are] coming in, putting their head down, wanting to compete and work, whether that’s practices or games…and they’re starting to see the results.”

After their fourth straight win, the red-hot Terps sit pretty convincingly on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. But with just three regular-season games remaining, Maryland’s biggest and best chance to improve its seeding and make a statement to the selection committee comes this Sunday at 2:00 p.m. – on the road in Columbus, Ohio against No. 2 Ohio State (22-3 overall; 13-1 in conference).