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Terps start strong, sag in the middle but finish solidly in 71-59 win at Rutgers

It was a homecoming of sorts for Laurin Mincy, the New Jersey native who nearly chose Rutgers over Maryland. With many in the crowd cheering her on, the senior led Maryland with 24 points as the Terps held on for a hard fought 71-59 win over the Scarlet Knights.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Maryland Terrapins women's basketball team faced their second consecutive game on the road against a ranked Big Ten team when they traveled to Piscataway to face 22nd ranked Rutgers. Half a dozen minutes or so into the game it looked as though the Terps would cruise to their eighth straight win and a perfect 5-0 mark in the B1G. That was not to be the case, though, as the Scarlet Knights fought back from an early 18-point deficit to tie the score before the Terps reasserted themselves to gain the 71-59 win.

First Half - A blistering start

Maryland opened the game like a comet blazing across the sky. Deadeye shooting and solid defense propelled the Terps to a 10-0 lead before the game was two minutes old. The opening blast-off included back-to-back three pointers by Lexie Brown sandwiched around a Rutgers timeout.

Betnijah Laney, who would make all five of her first half shots, scored on a layup that pulled the Scarlet Knights within eight, before a Brionna Jones layup triggered another 10-0 Terrapins run that featured two more three point jumpers - the third by Brown who finished the night with 13 points - and one by Mincy.

At this point, Rutgers turned up their defense and Maryland turned theirs down. Back to back steals launched an 8-0 Scarlet Knights run that closed the gap to 25-15. However, every time Rutgers threatened to cut the lead to single digits, the Terps managed to hold them off and led 35-26 at the final media timeout of the half.

When they scored the first basket out of the timeout, the home team finally broke through the double-digit deficit barrier. Though the Terps had only 14 turnovers in the contest, two of them came on consecutive possessions and Rutgers converted on both. The once comfortable 18-point cushion was now down five.

Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who, like Brown, finished with 13 points, made one of two free throws to temporarily stop the bleeding. Brionna Jones, on her way to a double double (12 points, 14 rebounds), took a perfect pass from Brown that gave Maryland a six-point lead with 27 seconds to play. Then, just before the buzzer, Tyler Scaife launched a desperation jumper from the free throw line extended that hit off the back of the rim bounced high in the air and fell through the net in a moment that had to leave Terps fans wondering if fate was not going to be on their side. Maryland had the 40-36 lead, but Rutgers had the energy, luck, and momentum.

Second Half - Responding to the punch

The Scarlet Knights carried the momentum from their late first half surge out of the locker room and onto the court, opening the second half by tying the score at 40 and again at 42 before a layup by Walker-Kimbrough on an assist from Mincy put the Terps ahead to stay. A layup by Brown stretched Maryland's lead to five at 48-43 but Rutgers continued to stay close.

Rutgers closed to within two again at 50-48 with just under 12 minutes to play, but the Terrapins went on what would prove to be a decisive 6-0 run that extended to a 12-2 run and pushed Maryland's lead back into double digits. Though the first six points came from three different players, Malina Howard played a critical role in the spurt.

Mincy got things started with two free throws and Howard followed by hitting a 17-foot jumper as the trailer on a Terps fast break. The next time down the floor, the junior set a high ball screen that freed Walker-Kimbrough for an open jumper.

Brene Mosely capped the run making two free throws after an official's review determined that Rutgers had committed a flagrant one foul when a swipe bloodied Walker-Kimbrough's nose though no foul had been called in the flow of play. In this instance, stopping the bleeding became quite literal for Shatori. With the Terps in possession and a chance to extend the lead to 14, the strangeness continued. Kaleah Copper stole the ball from Mincy and Mincy's foul from behind was legitimately determined to be an intentional foul.

Copper made the free throws but the Scarlet Knights failed to score on the extra possession. In fact, nearly two minutes of game time passed before either team scored again. It would again be Mincy coming off a screen for a free throw line jumper. Brionna Jones grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on the put back to open Maryland's largest lead of the half at 66-52.

Rutgers, displaying the tenacious personality of their coach, still refused to fold their tents and crept back within as few as nine with 1:50 to play. The Terps closed out the game with their final five points coming from the free throw line.

Maryland gutted out a tough road win fueled in large part by a hot start and stalwart second half defensive effort. After allowing Rutgers to shoot 50 percent (estimated) for the first half, the Terps held Rutgers to 23 points on 35.4 percent (estimated) in the second while forcing the Scarlet Knights into 12 of their 19 turnovers.

The 5-0 Terps will look to continue their run when they host Illinois Sunday afternoon. As of now, both Maryland basketball teams sit atop the Big Ten standings.