By Jack Rothenberg
Coming off of their first Big Ten win in Evanston, the Maryland Terrapins traveled back to College Park but weren’t able to bring the winning spirits with them as they fell to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 70-59. Maryland collapsed in the second half, unable to hold a double digit halftime advantage. Rutgers hit 10 threes throughout the game but seven of those came in the second half fueling their comeback. Senior forward Ron Harper Jr. did the most damage to the Terps with a career-high 31 points, and was 6-8 from beyond the arc.
Freshman forward Julian Reese was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time this season, and of his career which sent junior forward Qudus Wahab to the bench. Head coach Danny Manning may have been looking to get more front court production based on the performance senior guards Eric Ayala and Fatts Russell had a few days prior against Northwestern.
Ayala picked up where he left off against Northwestern, where he scored a career high 26 points. Ayala scored eight of Maryland’s first 13 points and got the Terps out to an early nine point advantage inside the first five minutes. Ayala (13 points) led Maryland at the break with 10 points.
While the Scarlet Knights battled back to cut their deficit to two points about midway through the half and even take the lead under nine minutes, a plethora of baskets from four different Terps pushed Maryland to eventually build an 11 point lead, 38-27 at halftime.
With the Terps in control of the contest, the likelihood of a Rutgers comeback looked bleak, but just when the Scarlet Knights started to heat up the Terps went ice cold from the field. Two buckets by junior guard Paul Mulcahy cut the Maryland lead to 42-39. Maryland seemed to be back on track on the following possession when one of the Terps’ best offensive players this season, junior guard Hakim Hart made his lone three pointer of the game and extended Maryland’s lead back to six points.
However, Rutgers jabbed right back with a 10-0 run that stunned Maryland. A sudden 49-45 deficit forced a Maryland timeout with just over nine minutes remaining.
Harper Jr. started to catch fire over this stretch and knocked down five threes in the final nine minutes. Mulcahy added another from deep which was too much for Maryland to overcome late in the game. The Terps were outscored 27-14 over the last 10 minutes of the game and that proved to be the difference.
In a very winnable game, Maryland let one slip out of their grasp, and the road doesn’t get any easier from here. The Terps’ will travel to Ann Arbor on Jan. 18 for their next contest. With a multitude of tough games down the line, Maryland must swallow this bad flavored meal and focus on the better tasting food that is hopefully ahead, as is the mantra each season in the Big Ten.
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