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Maryland men’s basketball vs. Rutgers preview (part two)

After upsetting Illinois, Maryland has it sights set on two straight wins.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

With a 10-9 record, Maryland men’s basketball will travel up to Rutgers to take on the Scarlet Knights for the second time this season on Tuesday night.

The Terps find themselves just 2-6 in conference play and near the bottom of the Big Ten standings. However, they are coming off a much-needed upset win over No. 17 Illinois in which they went on an 11-0 run over the final two minutes or so to seal a 16-point win in College Park on Friday.

Junior forward Donta Scott played a big part in helping Maryland clinch the win.

“There’s just certain things I know that we need at a certain moment... and I feel like last game we kind of needed me to put my will down on the court and just do what I did last game,” Scott said. “I’m just really confident going into these games.”

Rutgers has found some success in recent games, capturing wins over the Terps and Iowa in what was a very low-scoring affair. It most recently fell to Minnesota on the road in a three-point loss.

Tuesday’s matchup with Rutgers will be on Big Ten Network at 7 p.m. Let’s look at Maryland’s second and final regular-season matchup with the Scarlet Knights.

What happened last time

Before Maryland’s disappointing performance at Michigan and an upset win over No. 17 Illinois, it first faced Rutgers after coming off a double-overtime victory in a meeting with Northwestern on the road.

This was a game that the Terps desperately needed to continue its road back to success, but the Scarlet Knights ultimately wouldn’t allow Maryland to capture its second straight win at the time.

The first half, contrary to the final 20 minutes, was beautifully orchestrated by an energized and seemingly motivated Maryland team that was riding its first win in conference play from just a few days prior. The Terps were attacking the inside and senior guard Eric Ayala scored a team-high 10 points in the opening half.

Rutgers was forced into five turnovers in the first five minutes, helping Maryland to an early 14-6 lead. That trend carried on throughout the first half and the Scarlet Knights continued to pile on the turnovers. Rutgers committed 11 turnovers in the first half alone. Maryland’s lead soared with each possession as the lead stretched to 38-27 at halftime after it scored 18 points off turnovers.

Rutgers had 11 points in the final nine minutes of the first half, but it soon started to crawl back into the contest when the second half arrived.

Maryland held a 40-31 lead early on in the second half, but Ron Harper Jr. had other ideas. The senior hit back-to-back threes and gifted the Scarlet Knights a 49-45 lead after they capped off a 10-0 run.

The Terps still had the game tied at 55-55 later on, but Harper’s 11 points in the final five minutes did Maryland in for good. A three-pointer from the Scarlet Knights’ top scorer, who finished with a game-high 31 points, made it 65-57 with just over a minute left.

Rutgers marched out of College Park with an 11-point win after being down the same amount going into the second half. Maryland had three players score in double-digits, but it ultimately wasn't enough.

What’s happened since

Come Tuesday, it will only have been 10 days since the Terps met the Scarlet Knights for the first time this season. And though Maryland lost by 11 to Rutgers that night in College Park, it has split its last two contests.

The first game for Maryland after the Rutgers matchup was a road bout with a recharged Michigan program in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Terps had one of their worst first-half performances of the 2021-22 season, scoring only 19 points. That deficit would prove to be too steep for Maryland the rest of the way as it fell 83-64.

But the Terps got some of their swagger back when No. 17 Illinois came to town.

Maryland took advantage of a Kofi Cockburn-less Illini squad and preserved in regulation to secure its second conference win of the season. After leading by two at halftime, the Terps ended up outscoring the Fighting Illini 44-30 over the final 20 minutes to capture an upset win.

Junior forward Donta Scott added a team-high 25 points on 75% shooting in the Terps’ second win over a ranked opponent this season.

“I thought Donta had a really good ballgame,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “He made some shots from the perimeter, he got to the in-between game, there was a lot of perimeter to post work in terms of catching the ball, backing down, getting to your spot and with Donta’s size with his skill set with his athletic ability, we feel like that’s a tough cover for a lot of different teams.”

Then looking at Rutgers, it has only had two matchups since it last met up with Maryland on the road. The Scarlet Knights held the Terps to 59 points and then put on a stellar defensive effort against Iowa in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Iowa took a 27-24 lead into halftime, but Rutgers held its opponent to just 19 second-half points. Rutgers escaped with a 48-46 win to build its winning streak to two. The Scarlet Knights then headed back on the road and faced off with Minnesota on Saturday afternoon. It was a tight game the entire way for Rutgers, but a few possessions near the end of the game put the Golden Gophers on top by three.

With the loss, Rutgers moved to 11-7 on the season and 5-3 in conference play.

Three things to watch

1. Can the Terps contain Ron Harper Jr. in the second matchup? When these two teams met the first time, Harper Jr. shredded Maryland’s defense, mostly from beyond the arc. He finished with six makes from three on only eight attempts, hitting 60% of Rutgers’ total three-pointers. The second half was when Harper Jr. really made some noise on offense. He poured on 20 points, all of which either came from deep or the free throw line, to lead Rutgers to a 70-59 road win. He was clutch late in the game especially, and his overall performance was another showing by an opposing star player that Maryland couldn’t figure out how to contain. The Terps will need to limit Harper Jr. to have a shot on the road.

2. Will Maryland’s big men continue to make strides offensively? Junior center Qudus Wahab played with more confidence against Illinois and totaled 11 points, the most that he has scored since Jan 3. Prior to scoring 11, Wahab had just 16 combined points in his previous five games. His progression against Illinois in just 16 minutes on the floor, along with freshman forward Julian Reese who contributed with seven points and five rebounds, is a positive sign for Maryland. It will need both Wahab and Reese to contribute on both ends against Rutgers if it wants to build a small winning streak.

“I feel like my whole game really isn’t improved, but I feel like the most improved thing I got is my confidence really, like nothing physical, just my confidence mentally,” Reese said. “I feel like I’m adjusting well as a freshman.”

3. Will the Terps make another positive stride? Even after upsetting Illinois, Maryland still sits in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings with a 2-6 overall record in conference play. Nebraska, a program that is winless through eight Big Ten games, is the only team beneath the Terps in the standings. Maryland will need to once again come out desperate in an attempt to take down the Scarlet Knights on the road. Road conference matchups are the types of games that Maryland needs to win, especially if it wants to keep any kind of postseason hopes alive.