The two longest winning streaks in Big Ten women's basketball clashed Tuesday night at the Xfinity Center. The home standing Maryland Terrapins matched their 15 game string against the six consecutive game streak of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. The Terps, playing their fourth game in a nine span and had shown some signs of fatigue in Sunday's win over Nebraska. They displayed much more energy in Tuesday's 80-69 win as they improved to 22-2 and 13-0 in the Big Ten.
First Half - A different start
When the teams met three weeks ago in Piscataway, Maryland came flying out of the gate getting off to a 10-0 start from which Rutgers never recovered as the Terps rolled to a 71-59 win. Tuesday night, it was the visitors who again got on the board first as the Scarlet Knights registered the game's initial four points.
The Terps bounced right back on baskets by Laurin Mincy and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough to tie the score. However, Maryland's sophomore center, Brionna Jones, picked up her second foul just 2:27 into the first half and went to the bench early. Rutgers dominated the backboards through the game's opening minutes out rebound Maryland 9-2 with five offensive rebounds and five second chance points that gave them an 11-7 lead at the first media timeout.
Once again, Maryland's defense triggered their offense. The Terps picked up five steals over the subsequent 10 minutes and held a 10-2 edge in points off turnovers. The effort triggered a 10-0 Terrapins run that turned a 17-12 deficit into a 22-17 lead.
While Walker-Kimbrough was carrying the bulk of the scoring load picking up 11 of her 15 first half points, the Terps also got great energy and a solid contribution off the bench from redshirt freshman A'Lexus Harrison. Harrison picked up eight rebounds, five points, three assists, a blocked shot and drew a charging foul in 18 minutes of first half action.
As for the decision to use her freshman, Coach Brenda Frese said, "You watch a lot of film and A'Lexus was really good the first time and was able to use her athleticism. And then the way A'Lexus has been practicing. When you put those two things together, you know she's ready to play." In a bit of understatement she added, "I thought she lifted our energy. I thought she was a really difficult match-up for them."
After Syessence Davis hit a free throw line jumper to end Maryland's run and pull Rutgers to within 22-19, the Terps fashioned another 9-0 run that featured a desperation three point shot by Mincy from about 30 feet that touched nothing but net. Maryland's lead stood at 33-21 as the teams came to the under four minute timeout.
Malina Howard scored on her own offensive rebound to put the Terps up by 12 but Rutgers responded by closing the half on a 6-2 run and trailed 37-29 at the break. Harrison's energy also paid off in the battle of the boards. By the time the half ended, Maryland had recovered from the early 9-2 deficit to hold an 18-17 rebounding edge.
Second half - Let's get physical
After Lexie Brown missed a mid-range jumper on Maryland's first possession, the Terps got the ball inside to Malina Howard for two layups. However, it was also apparent that Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer had instructed her squad to be more aggressive. The Scarlet Knights pressed the Terps after every made basket, and attacked both the basket and the boards with some ferocity twice cutting the lead to four. Frese described her teams' response, "The way we played together, the poise, and the confidence and the toughness that you had to have in this game was tremendous."
They forced four Maryland turnovers and picked up the third foul on Jones in the first four minutes of the half before an offensive rebound and basket by Mincy with a foul gave the Terrapins a chance for a traditional three point play that the New Jersey senior converted coming out of the first media timeout.
Back to back baskets by Brown and some ferocious rebounding by Harrison who also made a baseline jumper off an assist by Walker-Kimbrough stretched the lead back to nine and prompted a timeout from Stringer. Coming out of the timeout, Frese reinserted Jones and had the Terps play a 3-2 zone. Rutgers found Betnijah Laney on the wing for a three point jumper and Mincy picked up her second foul after missing on a three point attempt of her own.
Shrita Canty made both free throws coming out of the under 12 minute timeout to once again pull the Scarlet Knights within four at 52-48. With the shot clock ticking down to four, "Big Shot" Brown hit a three point shot, Jones rebounded a Rutgers miss and found Walker-Kimbrough on a breakaway layup. Maryland led 59-50.
Maryland got the ball inside to Jones on the next two possessions and Maryland led 63-50. But just when the assembled crowd of 3,636 thought the game was in hand, the Terps had turnovers on three straight possessions and Rutgers capitalized on two and inching within eight at 63-55.
A pair of free throws by Jones halted the run but a three point play by Rachel Hollivay and a jumper by Taylor Scaife sandwiched a Howard layup and kept the pressure on the Terps with Rutgers trailing by only seven. However, a pair of Mincy free throws and consecutive three pointers by Brown - the second coming after yet another big time offensive rebound by Harrison - put the Terps up 75-60 at the final media timeout.
The Terps had possession coming out of the timeout but again turned the ball over twice against Rutgers full court pressure and a third time on an attempted rebound outlet pass. Although the Scarlet Knights scored on two of those to close to within 75-64, once Maryland was able to get the ball into the offensive zone, they were content to milk the clock. Howard scored on an offensive put back and the Terps closed out the 80-69 win from the free throw line.
Maryland finished with four players in double figures led by Brown's 19. Walker-Kimbrough added 17, Howard 15, and Mincy 14. The Terps now have nearly a week off before they travel to East Lansing for a rematch with Michigan State Monday night.