Piscataway, N.J. — As the shot clock winded down with a little over 15 minutes remaining against Rutgers, Anthony Cowan Jr. panicked and flung up an ill-advised three-pointer.
The Scarlet Knights grabbed the rebound, but slowed it down on the other end to look for the right shot. Ron Harper Jr. drained a shot over the arms of Aaron Wiggins from the corner and thumped his chest in celebration as the Terps went down by 14 points for the fourth consecutive game.
A few minutes later, Rutgers guard Montez Mathis found teammate Jacob Young in the paint, who sunk a contested layup to bring the Maryland deficit to 17-points. The Terps quickly found themselves in their largest hole of the season at 20 points, which they could never come back from in a 78-67 defeat — their third in four games.
“We don’t feel sorry for ourselves. We know where we are,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We didn’t get to 23-5 without being a really good basketball team, playing a top-10 schedule in the country. The last 72 hours just hasn’t gone very well. So, love my team, we’re gonna bounce back. We just didn’t have it tonight, but give Rutgers all the credit.”
Against a Rutgers team known for its defensive prowess, Maryland looked shaky on offense to start the contest. The team missed three consecutive shots on its first possession, unable to make good on either of two offensive rebounds, and had just one point off a free throw until 17:10 remained in the first half.
After Cowan got the Terps their first make of the game on a triple from the top of the arc, the team went nearly three minutes without a field goal and fell into a five-point deficit — until a Darryl Morsell layup broke the drought.
Then, with Maryland down 11-8 with 12:34 remaining, Jalen Smith swatted away Caleb McConnel’s floater down low with force. It was the team’s moment to get back in this one, but it couldn’t capitalize.
Cowan nearly turned the ball away on a pass inside, but recovered and passed it out to freshman Hakim Hart, who had an open sea of space at the top of the arc. But he clanked it off the back of the rim. Maryland was 1-of-8 from beyond the arc to start the game.
The same couldn’t be said for the Scarlet Knights, who sank two of their next three attempts from deep, followed by a layup off a Maryland turnover, to go on a 7-0 run and take an 11-point lead.
“I say this after every game. We haven’t made shots all year, okay,” Turgeon said. “But tonight we let it affect our transition defense. We put our heads down, we missed a shot, guys get frustrated not only with themselves — but I wouldn’t say with each other, it just weighs on you. And it can’t weigh on us. We gotta miss a shot, we better run our ass back and play some defense. And we didn’t do that today.”
After a Rutgers miss with over eight minutes left in the half, Morsell crossed midcourt and fired the ball directly into the paint, where Smith was waiting. The sophomore forward soared into the air, slamming down an emphatic dunk to make it a 19-12 contest with 8:21 left.
The duo once again combined for a big play for the Terps a few minutes later.
As Young dribbled in from the three-point line, he was met by tight defense from Cowan, forcing him to lose control of the ball. Smith grabbed it as the Terps took off towards the other end, throwing the ball to Morsell, who drove in from the arc and went in between two Rutgers defenders for the layup to shorten the deficit to 21-18.
But from there, the Terps went cold to allow Rutgers to take another 7-0 run over 1:17, putting them right back in a hole.
After going down by 11 for the second time with 1:03 left in the half, it looked like Maryland would yet again enter the break down by a significant margin.
And while the Terps did enter halftime trailing for the fourth consecutive game, they were able to soften the blow in the final minute.
With 40 seconds on the clock, Eric Ayala took a pass from Donta Scott at the top of the key and swished home a three-pointer for just Maryland’s second make of the night.
Scott then picked off a Rutgers pass on the other end. Cowan was fouled down low on the Terp’s possession and made both shots, allowing his team to enter halftime down 35-29.
But come the second half, Maryland allowed Rutgers to build its lead right back up.
With just over 17 minutes left, Morsell received a pass outside the arc from Cowan and attempted to drive to the hoop. But the junior was blocked, and the Scarlet Knights were off and running.
Geo Baker threw it ahead to Mathis, who turned around and tossed an underhand pass behind him to Harper. The Scarlet Knight set his feet on the wide open shot from deep and sunk it, completing Rutgers’ 9-2 run to start the second half.
“[Runs] happen a lot in basketball, it’s just a matter of the mentality you have going back and if you’re going to let it affect you or not,” Smith said. “And we let it affect us, and we dug ourselves in a hole and couldn’t get out of it.”
And after the Terps fell down 20 points, they simply seemed to run out of gas and were unable to mount their largest comeback of the season, once again falling short of their championship hopes to “overrated” chants throughout the remainder of the game. And as the final buzzer sounded, fans stormed the court at Rutgers Athletic Center.
Three things to know
1. Maryland looks to be falling fast. Turgeon’s squad has now lost three of its last four games and has faced deficits of 17 points or more in each one. The Terps have had two chances to clinch the Big Ten and fell short on both, in losses that weren’t close.
“There’s been a great weight on us all year being ranked high and playing at a high level,” Turgeon said. “We’ve had some unbelievable wins, thank God, because we’re still near the top of the league, if not close to it.”
We’re highly respected around the country, but we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have to go get it. We have to get back to being what our identity needs to be. I love our guys, it just hasn’t been a good 72 hours. We have time to get ourselves right before Sunday and I imagine we will.”
2. The Terps struggled tremendously from beyond the arc. After making just two triples in the first half, it didn’t get any better for Maryland in the second. The Terps finished the night going 6-of-32 from deep. Rutgers, on the other hand, made seven of its 16 three-point attempts.
“They [were] there, we [were] open. It was just one of those games where they just didn’t hit,” Cowan said. “We gotta go back on the drawing board.”
3. Bye bye, first place. As the Terps have slid, Michigan State has found its groove, including overcoming a halftime deficit at Penn State to storm back for a victory. Maryland is now tied with the Spartans at the top of the league with only one game left.