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Maryland men’s basketball takes down Rutgers, 68-60, in second straight conference win

Fatts Russell and Eric Ayala combined for 45 points.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

With Maryland men’s basketball leading by 10 and the ball in its hands, it was in desperate need of a bucket to silence the reenergized Rutgers crowd and avoid a second-half collapse that haunted it the first time these teams met this season.

The shot clock was winding down. Point guard Fatts Russell found himself with the ball near the right wing, stepped back and splashed in his fourth three of the game, a season-best for Russell and a crucial basket that extended Maryland’s lead to 14, one it would never relinquish.

Phenomenal shooting and a barrage of triples led Maryland to a 68-60 win at Rutgers on Tuesday, splitting the season series with the Scarlet Knights and avenging its second-half collapse against Rutgers just 10 days ago.

The Terps backcourt duo of Russell and senior guard Eric Ayala led the way in its second straight win, combining for 45 points and 10 made threes.

“I thought this was one of those games where we played tip to horn in a very unique and difficult place to play,” interim head coach Danny Manning said.

Maryland’s game plan early was clear: feed the post and get center Qudus Wahab involved. Wahab had Maryland’s first six points after scoring just four points in the first time these two teams met.

After three straight games of switching up the starting lineup to send a message to his stars, interim head coach Danny Manning reverted back to the lineup that started the first 16 games of the season.

It boded well for the Terps, who got off to an early 11-7 lead while establishing their presence inside the paint.

While Maryland’s offense wasn't particularly efficient in the early going, its defense was phenomenal in limiting Rutgers on its home court. The Scarlet Knights started 3-for-3 from the field to open the game and then went ice cold, missing its next nine shots.

The Terps took advantage of Rutgers’ cold shooting, exploding on an 11-0 run capped off by a Julian Reese slam that forced a timeout from Rutgers. Maryland sat back in a 3-2 zone defense, forcing Rutgers to shoot and try to make perimeter shots.

The Scarlet Knights certainly shot them. Make them, however? Not so much. Through the first 10 minutes, Rutgers shot 25% from the field and 17% from the field, prompting Maryland to take a 22-9 lead.

The Terps piled on as the half went on. A 13-point lead turned into a 15-point one by the next media timeout, with Maryland playing its most efficient basketball of the season on both ends of the floor.

With under six minutes remaining in the first half and with Wahab not shooting the ball since the opening minutes of the game, Ayala delivered a wrap-around bounce pass to Wahab right under the rim, who got another basket to go.

Just a few minutes later, with Rutgers attempting to crawl back in the game trailing by just 14, Russell nailed back-to-back transition threes to extend Maryland’s lead to 20, the largest lead it held in a Big Ten game this season. Russell finished the first half with 13 points and three threes.

However, behind the energy of its home crowd, Rutgers refused to go away easy. The Scarlet Knights responded right back with back-to-back threes of their own. After playing with a lid on the rim for most of the first half, Rutgers began to heat up in the closing minutes of the opening half, knocking down five of its last nine shots.

While Harper was the star the first time these teams met with a career-high 31 points, it was guard Geo Baker who kept Rutgers afloat this time. Baker had more than half of Rutgers’ first-half points with 14 and four made threes.

Maryland went into the break with a 38-26 lead. This was familiar territory for the Terps who led by 11 at halftime just 10 days ago when these teams met in College Park. After a productive first half, the only question for Maryland was if they would be able to weather the storm or another second-half collapse was in store.

“No sugarcoating it,” Manning said about the halftime message. “We’ve been here before, now we’ve got to do a better job of finishing and closing out.”

Rutgers opened the second half with energy, creeping into the Terps lead. But Russell and Ayala’s hot shooting hampered any hopes of a Rutgers comeback.

Both teams traded baskets back and forth, with Maryland holding steady to its double-digit lead through the first 10 minutes of the second half. Maryland’s three-point explosion — that saw Maryland make the most threes it has all season with 12 — allowed them to maintain its lead.

Most of that production from beyond the arc came from the Terps starting backcourt in Ayala and Fatts. They accounted for 10 of Maryland’s 12 made threes. Maryland’s 12 made threes were the most it has made all season.

“We work really hard,” Russell said. “It’s finally starting to show. We have confidence in each other.”

Rutgers continued to fight, but for every punch, Maryland — particularly Russell and Ayala — had an answer. In a game that started with Maryland establishing its presence in the post, it was ended with an influx of triples that Rutgers had no answer for.

Maryland moved to 3-6 in the conference and picked up back-to-back Big Ten wins for the first time this season.

Three things to know

1. Maryland contained Ron Harper Jr. When these two teams met 10 days ago, Ron Harper Jr. exploded for a career-high 31 points, with 20 coming in the second half. This time around, the emphasis for Maryland was to contain Harper. Manning acknowledged they weren't going to be able to prevent him from scoring completely, but there were tactics they could employ to make it difficult for him. Hakim Hart was the primary defender on Harper and did a great job of slowing him down. He had just four points on four shots at halftime. He finished the game with 16 points on 7-of-16 shooting.

“Hakim did a really good job of being there and being a really good, pesky defender,” Manning said.

2. Maryland had its best shooting day of the season. Maryland isn’t a particularly good three-point shooting team and many of its shooters have been streaky all season. But on the road against Rutgers, the Terps were on fire, led by their backcourt of Russell and Ayala. Maryland was 12-for-25 from behind the arc and its 48% was its second-best of the season. Russell and Ayala both had 5 threes. Hakim Hart and Xavier Green also chipped in with one apiece.

3. Maryland collects back-to-back Big Ten wins and a big one on the road. After starting 1-6 in conference play, Maryland improved to 3-6 in its last two games and is beginning to play efficient offensive basketball. This win was especially impressive because it was on the road. It’s never easy to win on the road in the Big Ten, but it’s even harder to win at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are 19-5 in their last 24 home games. Maryland has also split the season series with every team it’s played twice this year including Northwestern, Illinois and now Rutgers.