Maryland men’s basketball traveled to Piscataway, New Jersey for a rematch with Rutgers, a team it fell to just two weeks ago after blowing an 11-point halftime lead.
This time around, the score was nearly identical to the last game at halftime but Maryland did not relinquish its lead and walked away with its second consecutive Big Ten win for the first time all season.
Here are three takeaways from the Terps’ 11th win of the season.
Eric Ayala and Fatts Russell combined for 42 points while the Terps slowed down Ron Harper Jr. and Paul Mulcahy.
On Jan. 15, senior guard Eric Ayala had 13 points, graduate guard Fatts Russell put up nine and Rutgers’ guard/forward Ron Harper Jr. had a career-high 31 points while guard Paul Mulcahy had the second-most points with 15.
However, on Tuesday night the narrative flipped.
Through the first four minutes of the game, the Terps held Harper Jr. to two points on 1-for-2 shooting. He picked up two early fouls and played 15 minutes in the first half scoring four points in that time period.
In the second half, he added another basket but also picked up another foul sending him back to the bench with about 15 minutes remaining in the game.
At that point, he shot 3-for-10 from the field and 0-for-2 from deep. He was able to pull in five of Rutgers’ 20 rebounds but drew those three fouls early on keeping him from making an impact the entire game.
Harper Jr. was still able to score 16 points but came nowhere close to the career-high 31 points he hit earlier this month at Xfinity Center thanks to tight defense from guard Hakim Hart as he was forced to take hard shots and missed all four shots from deep. The first time the teams played, Harper Jr. hit six threes.
“Keem’s been guarding the best player every night. You know, he takes pride in that,” Russell said. “I believe he’s averaging like a lot of steals too. So I mean, he’s just a really great defender. We feel like if there’s a best player on the team, then we could put Hakim.”
Mulcahy attempted three three-point shots and missed all of them. He dished out seven assists but finished the game scoreless after 28 minutes on the court.
On the other end of the court, Ayala and Russell exploded.
Ayala hit the 200 mark for successful three-point shots making him only the fifth player in program history to do so. He shot 8-for-13 from the field, 5-for-9 from deep and was 1-for-4 from the charity stripe.
Also finishing the day with five threes: Russell. The graduate guard put up a game-high 23 points, the most he’s scored in a Maryland uniform and the backcourt duo combined for over 66% of the Terps’ total points.
Maryland produced on offense, jumped out to a quick start and this time did not let it slip away.
The lead changed just one time the entire game and that was early on in the first half. Once the Terps took control of it, they went on an 11-0 run holding the Scarlet Knights to zero points in about five and a half minutes. Rutgers snapped that drought but Maryland took advantage of the Scarlet Knights’ poor shooting and jumped out to another 7-0 run to secure the 22-9 lead with about 10 minutes remaining.
“We talked about going into the game, playing tip to horn and I thought this is 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.
At that point, while the Terps shot 64% from the field while shooting 9-for-14, the Scarlet Knights were 25% shooting 4-for-16. From deep, Maryland was 2-for-6 while the Scarlet Knights were 1-for-6.
Against Maryland the first time, Rutgers shot 46.3% from the field hitting 25 of its 54 attempted shots. The Terps, on the other hand, made just 18 field goals the last time these two teams met shooting 33.3% from the field.
The run continued as Rutgers was struggling to find momentum offensively. With a little under eight minutes remaining the Scarlet Knights hit just one of their last 15 attempted field goals.
At the end of the first half, Maryland slowed down, not scoring in over two and a half minutes while Rutgers scored eight unanswered but Russell snapped that with a three, his third of the day, and Rutgers answered right back to cancel it out. Manning called a timeout with 4.6 seconds remaining and although the Terps missed the last layup, they walked into the locker room with the 12-point lead.
Just 12 days earlier, the Terps and Scarlet Knights played and Maryland held a 38-27 lead but ultimately crumbled in the second half giving away the 11-point lead. The halftime score in this rematch — 38-26.
“We were just talking back and forth to each other like we’ve been here before. We just gotta keep our foot on the gas,” Ayala said about the conversation at halftime. “We told each other that even if they make a shot, we can’t let the crowd feel like it’s an eight-point shot instead of a two or three-point shot.”
To start the second, Rutgers got on the board first but missed four consecutive field goals before hitting a three-pointer responding to Russell’s first of the half, second of the day.
Maryland continued to hold onto the lead and about halfway through the second half, the Terps held a 49-38 lead and at that point, Rutgers hit just one of its last seven field goals.
The Scarlet Knights tried to climb back as they did the first time around, once again outscoring the Terps in the second frame but this time, it was just by four points and Maryland was able to leave Piscataway with the win.
The Terps are now 3-0 the second time they’ve faced an opponent this season.
The three opponents Maryland has faced twice now are Northwestern, Illinois and Rutgers. Maryland fell to all three of those teams the first time they met and defeated them the second time.
“I mean, we want to win the first game but, you know, after the team we have like that fight... that we’re not gonna let somebody beat us twice,” Russell said. “You know, that’s just a testament of who we are as people.”
Northwestern was Manning’s first game as interim head coach and the team was going through a challenging week with the coaching change. The Terps kept it close but ultimately Pete Nance’s double-double performance of 17 points and 10 boards allowed the Wildcats to secure that win.
The second time around, Maryland entered its matchup against Northwestern 0-4 in Big Ten play. Hungry for a conference win, the Terps who were tied at halftime, pushed the game into overtime and outscored the Wildcats 11-4 in the fourth period to pick up conference win No. 1.
Illinois was an unranked team when the Fighting Illini and Terps first met. Maryland had a four-point lead at halftime after center Kofi Cockburn got into early foul trouble but he came back in the second half and ended up with 23 points and eight boards to lead Illinois to the 76-64 win.
The second time, Maryland faced No. 17 Illinois at the Xfinity Center but this time, without Cockburn as he was out due to concussion protocol. Maryland had a two-point lead at the half and outscored the Illini 44-30 in the second half to pick up its second Big Ten win.
Now, after having nearly identical halftime scores in its two games against Rutgers, Maryland also split the regular-season series with the Scarlet Knights winning the second time around.
“To come on the road and get a win here in this environment, with the teams that are Rutgers has beaten in this building,” Manning said. “It’s a great win for us.”
Maryland will face Indiana, Michigan State and Ohio State before its next rematch of the season. That game will come on Feb. 10 at home against Iowa. The first time those teams met was in early January. Maryland had the lead at halftime but ultimately fell, 80-75, after Keegan Murray put up 35 points.