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Maryland men’s basketball’s halftime lead erased, taken down by Rutgers, 70-59

The Terps were outscored 43-21 in the second half.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

With 1:30 to go in the game and Maryland men’s basketball trailing by five, the Terps were trying to generate some offense, something it failed to do throughout the second half against Rutgers. Guard Eric Ayala shot a three from the left wing that hit off the back iron.

Maryland secured the offensive rebound and kicked it out to guard Fatts Russell. Russell also attempted a three to no avail. Rutgers came down the other end and nailed a three, pushing its lead to eight, all but locking in Rutgers’ first road win of the year and Maryland’s fifth Big Ten loss of the season through six conference games.

Maryland failed to overcome its horrendous second half offense that featured just 21 points — its fewest points in a half this season — and nine turnovers in the final 20 minutes, falling to Rutgers 70-59 on Saturday afternoon. Maryland moves to 9-8 on the year and 1-5 in the Big Ten.

“The second half, we didn't come out and finish the way we needed to,” Interim head coach Danny Manning said. “We played well enough in the first half to give ourselves a chance to win. We didn’t finish the way we needed to.”

Both Maryland and Rutgers were plagued with poor offense to open up the Saturday Matinee in College Park. However, it was the hot hand of Ayala who led Maryland’s offense to break through in the opening minutes. Back-to-back threes from Ayala helped Maryland go on an 8-0 run to give the Terps a 13-4 lead through five minutes of action.

Ayala’s fluid scoring has been a trend in recent games, particularly in the Terps double-overtime win over Northwestern on Wednesday when the senior guard went off for a career-high 26 points and his first career double-double.

It’s a rare occurrence when Maryland jumps out to an early lead and controls both ends of the floor in the beginning portion of the game. Manning’s group has put an emphasis on getting out to faster starts and that was evident against Rutgers.

The Terps' swarming defense allowed them to force five Rutgers turnovers in the first seven minutes that led to 10 points on the other end for Maryland.

But this time it was the Scarlet Knights who fought back in the game, going on an 8-0 run of their own to tie the game up at 14 apiece with 12 minutes to go in the first half.

The Big Ten foes, separated by just 170 miles, battled back and forth, but it was Rutgers who took its first lead of the game with seven and a half minutes to go in the first half thanks to a Ron Harper Jr. three from the left wing.

That Scarlet Knights lead didn't last long as Maryland exploded on a 10-0 run capitalized by a Donta Scott three for his first points of the day and then a driving layup through contact. Maryland took advantage of Rutgers turnovers and pushed the ball in transition with Russell leading the break. The Terps had nine fast-break points to Rutgers’ zero in the first half.

“We had really good active hands defensively, creating some deflections that gave us a chance to get out in transition,” Manning said.

Rutgers has had its road struggles all year, struggling to consistently knock down shots away from New Brunswick that’s led to an 0-5 road record heading into Saturday, but Maryland’s defense was phenomenal in preventing a change in that trend. The Terps had seven first-half steals with seven different players collecting one.

Maryland held onto its advantage in the final few minutes, entering halftime with a 38-27 lead. While the Terps shot just 42% from the field in the first half, their tremendous defense and 13 free throw makes — compared to Rutgers’ zero — allowed Maryland to enter the break with a decent cushion.

Maryland appeared like it refused to take its foot off the gas to open the second half, determined to pick up its second win in the Big Ten, a conference where a win is never a given. But the Scarlet Knights had other plans, making a run in the second half to cut the Terps lead to three with 13 minutes to go in the game.

Hakim Hart countered with a catch-and-shoot three for his first of the game to push Maryland’s lead right back to six. That would be Maryland’s last basket for over four minutes, allowing Rutgers to go on a 10-0 run capped off by back-to-back threes from Harper to take its first lead of the half at 49-45 with under 10 minutes to go, forcing Manning to call a timeout.

The Terps were shooting a plethora of threes in an attempt to generate some offense. To Manning’s pleasure, Maryland started to generate looks from the inside out. Scott was working with the ball on the left block before kicking it out to Hart at the top of the key. Hart swung it to Russell on the right wing, who swung it to Ayala in the corner. Ayala was gifted an open look thanks to quick ball movement from Maryland. Ayala made the most of his open look — which came few and far between in the second half — nailing the three to push the Terps back in front.

But it was Harper once again in response to the Terps who hit a step-back three from the top of the key, giving the Scarlet Knights the lead back with under four minutes to go, setting up for a fantastic finish in College Park. The three gave Harper 23 points on the day. Rutgers was undefeated coming into the game when Harper scored 20 or more.

“When we had some opportunities to score the ball, we just didn't make shots,” Manning said.

Harper would score eight more points in the game in the final three and a half minutes, good for a career-high 31 on the afternoon with 20 coming in the second half.

Maryland’s poor offense and Harper’s explosion was too much for Maryland to come back from in the final minutes, eventually falling to Rutgers.

Three things to know

1. Julian Reese got his first career start. Freshman big man Julian Reese has shown promise in his opening season competing at the collegiate stage. The four-star prospect from Baltimore has come off the bench in every game prior to Rutgers this season, but still found a way to make an impact on both ends of the floor. On Saturday, Reese got his first career start as Qudus Wahab, the normal starting center, was moved to the bench. Wahab had struggled in recent games, averaging just 2.6 points over the last three contests. Reese played 25 minutes while scoring nine points and grabbing seven rebounds. Wahab played 14 minutes, scored four points and had four rebounds.

“It’s just a different look for us,” Manning said. “He came out and did some really good things for us.”

2. Maryland dominated the free throw battle in the first half, but not the second. Danny Manning has made it an emphasis since he took over as interim head coach for Maryland to play inside and get to the rim, which helps the team get to the free throw line at a higher rate. The Terps have done just that in Big Ten play this season. Maryland leads the Big Ten in both free throws attempted and free throws made. That was highlighted against Rutgers as Maryland was 13-for-15 from the free throw line in the opening half, while Rutgers was just 0-for-1. However, it was a completely different story in the second half with Maryland shooting only four free threes, which contributed to its second-half downfall.

“Obviously we’d like to shoot a lot more than that,” Manning said on the four free throw attempts in the second half.

3. Maryland’s second-half offense was non-existent. While the Terps defense led them to their 11-point halftime lead, the offense still played a key role in an impressive first half of basketball for Maryland. However, in the latter half, Maryland’s offense completely disappeared, allowing Rutgers to crawl back in the game, eventually taking the lead and securing the win. Maryland scored 38 points in the opening half compared to just 21 in the second half. The Terps shot 25% from the floor and 20% from three in the abysmal offensive half.