Three Takeaways from Maryland men’s basketball conference opening loss to No. 19 Rutgers

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Playing at home is not what it used to be. Just ask Maryland basketball. In an empty Xfinity Center, the Scarlet Knights had their way with Maryland and it seemed like the visitors were boasting home court advantage. 

Spurred by a dominant 27-point performance by Ron Harper Jr, Rutgers (5-0, 1-0 B1G) was able to dispatch the Terps (4-2, 0-1 B1G) with ease, handing them their second straight loss and first home loss of the season. The Scarlet Knights were victorious on a 74-60 scoreline.

“They were even better tonight than I thought,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “They’re really talented. They’re having fun out there.”

Here are my three takeaways from Monday’s loss against Rutgers. 

Maryland’s defense looks a lot better but it’s not quite where it should be

Last contest, Clemson imposed its will on offense and Maryland gave up almost 40 first half points. This time around, Maryland looked much better on defense, albeit briefly. Rutgers exposed Maryland’s porous frontcourt defense early and it allowed the visitors to put distance between the two. The Scarlet Knights were able to stretch their lead to eight points before the Terps regained control through their defense. 3-2 zone sets and full court pressure weakened the Scarlet Knights attack and the Terps eight-point deficit quickly turned into a one-point advantage entering halftime. 

This first half sequence featured a Terp defense that translated missed shots and turnovers into easy fast break points. Maryland’s defense was able to generate a 15-4 run to close out the half. However, its fortunes on defense did not carry into the final period. 

“Our zone worked for us in the first half,” Turgeon said, “And in the second half Harper just said ‘I’m gonna take over the game.’”

Harper squashed whatever hopes Maryland had of maintaining a lead. In the second half, the junior forward scored 19 points in 18 minutes all while shooting over 50% from the field and behind the arc. Maryland’s promising defense was nowhere to be found in the second half and Rutgers’ lead quickly became insurmountable. With a full 40 minutes of defense, it’s likely the Terps’ chances would be better, but even then, it’s unlikely Maryland would have had an answer for Harper.

Maryland needs more from the bench. 

For the majority of the game, Hakim Hart had the only point off the bench for Maryland. Hart’s single free throw bucket lasted up to the 12-minute mark of the second half when Jairus Hamilton hit his first three. At the final buzzer, the Terps totaled a measly nine points off the bench. Meanwhile, the Scarlet Knights notched 25 bench points, all from Geo Baker and Myles Johnson. Issues of the past have certainly caught up to Maryland. Depth was a huge concern throughout the 2019-20 season and remains a concern today. The Terps possess a breadth of brand new talent on the roster and face a tough schedule ahead, perhaps it’s time to develop this bench further and see what the future has in store. 

Aaron Wiggins is good but he has to be better.

Aaron Wiggins is quite possibly the most talented player for Maryland at his best. His ability to score at all three levels along with the considerable length he provides on defense makes him a complete basketball player and a standout athlete. 

However, his services on offense have been sorely missed. For the majority of the season thus far, Wiggins has played a passive role on the Terps offense. But the junior wing brought a mixed effort this contest, filling up the stat sheet modestly with a spread of six points, seven rebounds and three assists. 

Nevertheless, more is always better. This season, Eric Ayala, Donta Scott, and Darryl Morsell have all enjoyed significant improvements on offense while Wiggins still has yet to make any major improvements from his sophomore season, averaging generally the same numbers across the board. Although this year’s mantra for the Terps has been ‘scoring by committee,’ the reigning sixth man of the year has to bring more offensively to make Maryland a true threat.