By Jack Rothenberg
The Maryland Terrapins welcomed the Rutgers Scarlet Knights into Xfinity Center for each team’s Big Ten opener, and while the Terps held a slim 28-27 lead after making a late first half run, it wasn’t enough as they lost their first game at home, 74-60. Maryland’s defense kept the Terps within striking distance throughout, but a three minute lapse in the middle of the second half combined with poor shooting allowed Rutgers to make a second 10-0 run putting Maryland in a 12 point hole from which they never recovered. As a team, the Terrapins shot only 34% from the field and a mere 20% from beyond the arc percentages that won’t get it done in most games, let alone in the Big Ten this season.
Head coach Mark Turgeon discussed his team’s inability to make shots and their overall performance after the game. “You’ve got to give [Rutgers] a lot of credit. They made shots…we didn’t make shots, and we were still right there against a really good team. So we’ve got to get our confidence up and I’ve got to coach them a little better.”
Even though the Terps came out sluggish once again starting 1-7 from the floor with 2 turnovers, Maryland found themselves tied at six, just six minutes into the game after junior guard Eric Ayala was fouled on a three point attempt and knocked down all three free throws. The Terps were able to draw three fouls on the ensuing possessions to get themselves into the bonus with over 14 minutes remaining in the half. Maryland went 10-14 from the line in the first half which kept them in the contest.
After a layup by Eric Ayala, tied the game at 13, the Terps went scoreless for just over four minutes while Rutgers put together their first 10-0 run of the game. Maryland finished the half with only nine made baskets and missed all seven of their three point attempts. To compensate for their lack of offensive output, Maryland stepped up their intensity on defense. The Terps switched between man-to-man and different zones, which forced the Scarlet Knights to shoot 1-11 in the last six minutes of the half. This enabled Maryland to go on a 15-4 run capped off with a Donta Scott floater to take the lead at halftime, 28-27.
Rutgers came out of the break hot, hitting their first three shots to take an early three point lead. Maryland stayed close and cut the lead to two at 40-38 as senior forward Galin Smith put back an Ayala missed lay-up with under 15 minutes to play. The Scarlet Knights then launched their second 10-0 run bookended by a pair of Myles Johnson dunks. The run also included a three pointer by junior forward Ron Harper who led the Knights with 27 points including five made threes. The Terps closed to within seven points twice, but each time, Rutgers’ Geo Baker had the answer and Maryland never fully recovered.
Through six games the one consistent performer for the Terps has been sophomore forward Donta Scott. Scott contributed a career high 20 points (the third time he’s set a new career high this season) and eight rebounds against Rutgers, and has scored in double figures in all but one game. His teammates and coaches have noticed, and Scott’s stellar play has been magnified during the two game skid. “Donta was big, [especially] his energy…he made a lot of shots for us. He was just consistent throughout the night [and was] a part of a lot of our runs,” Ayala said.
Turgeon spoke about Scott’s improvement from freshman to sophomore year. “He’s more aggressive. He has to be and then he’s shooting the ball better. He’s worked hard on his shot…and he’s confident out there, he’s got toughness to him,” Turgeon said.
Whether it will benefit the Terps or not, Maryland has an extended break. Their next game will be in seven days on Dec. 22 against the La Salle Explorers. Maryland will look to get back to the winning ways Terp fans have become accustomed to, and that starts with shooting the ball better.
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