Maryland turned in their second Big Ten win in a row Wednesday, moving to 4-1 in conference play with a 73-65 win over Rutgers in College Park. Dez Wells scored 17 points with eight rebounds, while Jake Layman and Jared Nickens each had 12.
Maryland got off to a sloppy start, with missed dunks, silly turnovers and five missed field goals, trailing 8-0 three minutes into the game. After Mark Turgeon called a much-needed timeout, Melo Trimble took over. He burst into the lane for a layup directly out of the timeout, and hit a three-pointer on the next possession to make it a one-possession game. Maryland tied it up on their next possession, when Trimble dished it to Dez Wells for the wide open three, and Michal Cekovsky took the first Terrapin lead minutes later with a dunk.
The Terrapins struggles continued until the end of the first half, and they entered the break leading 38-31 after a late Jake Layman and Jared Nickens run. Maryland committed seven turnovers in the opening period, but improved towards the end of the period and ended up shooting 46.4 percent (47.1 percent from three) in the half.
Rutgers swiftly tied it up 38-38 just two minutes into the second half and took the lead shortly after, making their first six field goal attempts in the period in a row. Trailing 49-43 with under 14 minutes left to play, Mark Turgeon called a timeout. Once again we saw the Terps play more aggressively out of a timeout, as Layman drew the three-point play on the ensuing inbound.
The Scarlet Knights kept making their shots, holding on to the lead deep into the second half, but the Terps finally took back the advantage when two Dez Wells free throws with 5:10 left made it 60-59. He picked off a Rutgers pass and slammed it home to extend the lead, setting off the fans at the Xfinity Center. After the Scarlet Knights tied it up again, Smotrycz took the lead back with a pair of free throws with under three minutes to play.
Three things we learned
1. A Big Ten schedule is tough. We saw Wisconsin lose to this Rutgers team just a few days ago, and even though the Scarlet Knights are considered to be at (or at least near) the bottom of the conference, they're capable of giving anyone a tough game. The Terps learned this on the road against Illinois, but they were really given a tough test with a game Scarlet Knights opponent at home.
You could also make the argument, for now, that Maryland is the best team in the conference. Wisconsin had the advantage until they lost to Rutgers, and Maryland took care of their end by not losing to Rutgers. Not losing to Rutgers is critical in any effort to being the best team in the Big Ten -- it's quite difficult to accomplish both at the same time -- and Maryland certainly has one of the very best resumes in the league.
That'll almost certainly change, with Indiana, Michigan State and Ohio State each looking like serious contenders to Maryland and Wisconsin for that top spot. Maryland's next game comes against the Spartans in College Park, giving the Terps the opportunity for a season sweep of Tom Izzo's squad.
2. That was a concerning defensive performance. Maryland's been quite good on that end of the floor this season, ranking No. 18 in KenPom's Adjusted Defense, but Rutgers shot lights out Wednesday. The Scarlet Knights entered the game shooting 38.9 percent from the floor and 29.5 percent from three, and shot 45.5 percent against Maryland (41.2 from three). Maryland had troubles in transition, collapses inside and left a number of open three-point opportunities for opposing shooters. Things got better later in the second half, but it'll be harder to come back against some of the league's more potent offenses.
3. When Maryland doesn't get to the line, it hurts. The Terps have been quite good at getting free throw opportunities this season, averaging 26 attempts per game from the line. Wednesday, they struggled early, making it to the line just six times in the first half. Melo Trimble and Dez Wells had problems getting into an offensive rhythm all game (combined seven of 24 from the floor), and Maryland had to rely on their outside shooters early on to score points. Part of that was an unusually timid offensive display from the Terps, but much of it can be attributed to a strong defensive effort by the Scarlet Knights inside.
The Terrapins dedicated more of their offensive flow to driving the ball inside later in the second half, and it paid off. Maryland took the lead back on the strength of free throws and inside scoring (16 of 22 from the line in the second half), eventually riding that to the win. Four three pointers from Jared Nickens didn't hurt, either -- as usual, the freshman's ability to score from deep gives the Terrapins just another explosive scoring option on the floor.