clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Takeaways from Maryland men’s basketball’s loss to Rutgers

The Terps dropped to 10-5 overall and 1-3 in the Big Ten.

Maryland v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Maryland men’s basketball fell to 10-5 overall and 1-3 in the Big Ten with a 64-50 loss at Rutgers Thursday night. The Terps jumped out to a 4-0 lead but never led after that, going cold from the field, unable to muster a comeback in the second half.

Maryland, which started 8-0, has now lost five straight games against power conference opponents and will not get a break in the ultra-competitive Big Ten. With the season just about halfway over, it’ll need a reversal of fortunes to get itself back on track.

Let’s get into some takeaways from the Terps’ loss to the Scarlet Knights.

Maryland’s offense looks lost.

At a glimpse, the statistics from Maryland’s offense are worrying. The Terps are constantly getting off to slow starts and going on lengthy scoring droughts, racking up missed shots and turnovers. The Terps managed to have one more turnover (20) than made field goals (19) Thursday night.

Somehow, Maryland’s offense fails the eye test even worse than it fails its math one. Kevin Willard’s philosophy of “play hard on defense and do whatever you want on offense” is clearly not working for a team that lacks the stars that can create shots for themselves, even though Willard said that his primary focus in recent practices was offense.

This year’s team — at least in the half court — runs similar offensive sets to the ones that Terp fans relentlessly lamented about under Mark Turgeon. The players frequently pass or hand the ball off around the perimeter and make little to no effort to push the ball inside, generating no open looks that aren’t 3-pointers. The difference between this team and some of the Turgeon teams that would still put up decent offensive numbers is pretty simple: there is no Melo Trimble, Anthony Cowan Jr., Kevin Huerter, Bruno Fernando or Jalen Smith to bail it out.

Through the first few games of the season, reliable playmaking from Jahmir Young, Donta Scott and Hakim Hart opened up opportunities for them and others to succeed on the offensive end. Now that it’s become clear that this team isn’t one that can rely on the 3-point shot and win, those three players in particular need to step up and lead the offense.

To make matters worse, the Terps aren’t converting from inside the arc either. It’s been a struggle to make much happen down low against Big Ten opponents. Julian Reese just simply isn’t ready to go toe-to-toe with the conference’s best on a consistent basis. That’s not to say that he can’t get to there eventually, but as someone who is 6-foot-9 and poses no threat from outside, he can’t be relied upon as a primary option at this point in time. Graduate forward Patrick Emilien can provide some relief, but not in a role that requires him to be a central focus.

Defense has been the cornerstone of Kevin Willard’s time as a head coach and will always be his focus as Maryland’s coach, and it was pretty good Thursday night, keeping the Terps in the game despite a poor offensive showing. Still, adjustments need to be made on the offensive end. Getting downhill and running in transition was the main focus of Maryland’s offense when it was winning games, but whatever the strategy is right now just isn’t working.

Kevin Willard is still figuring out his rotation.

With a roster that had to be put together last-minute — at least in the terms of today’s college basketball, where the bulk of most rosters are put together shortly after season’s end — Willard has had to do some tinkering to see how he can put his players in the best position to succeed.

On multiple occasions, especially against lesser opponents, Willard has given upwards of 10 players meaningful playing time, using every opportunity to evaluate his team. He rolled with the same starting lineup for the first 11 games of the season before deciding to replace graduate guard Don Carey with junior guard Ian Martinez and replace an injured Reese with Emilien. His lineup switches continued Thursday after reverting back to the original starting five for two games, this time swapping Carey for freshman guard Noah Batchelor with the goal of letting Carey come off the bench, something that he believes benefits him.

“Don played really well the last few times he came off the bench ... I wanted to try to maybe get one of their subs and just kind of get him going a little bit and just kind of get a little pressure off him,” Willard said.

“It’s an advantage coming off the bench sometimes. You know, you get engaged and see the atmosphere and see where the energy needs to go on the court,” Carey added.

Foul trouble has also forced a few rotation switches, as Reese has become prone to picking up fouls that force Willard to make tough decisions about whether or not he should stay in the game. Reese and Emilien were on the floor together more often than usual Thursday, perhaps a strategy Willard will employ more moving forward to take the heat off his sophomore big man.

Unless things change in a hurry, Maryland doesn’t look like an NCAA Tournament team.

With 16 games left on their schedule, the Terps have a ways to go to build their resume and pick up wins over future tournament teams. They have six games left against ranked opponents — including Sunday’s game against No. 24 Ohio State — and could very well put themselves on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Unfortunately, Maryland’s most recent string of games doesn’t inspire confidence that it’ll be able to knock those teams off. In their last four games against power conference competition, the Terps have scored an average of 16.75 points in the first half. They were nearly able to dig themselves out of that hole and come back to beat Tennessee but couldn’t finish it off at the end.

The beauty of sports is that fans can always expect the unexpected to occur. There’s a solid chance that Maryland will win at least one game that it isn’t supposed to. But as the losses begin to pile up early in conference play, Willard’s first team in College Park is putting more and more pressure on itself with each passing contest.

The Terps have six more games left in January and will likely only be favored in their home game versus Nebraska, which is not the walkover this year that it has been in recent seasons. Once again, it’s too late to make any definitive statements about where Maryland will end up postseason-wise, but it is teetering on the edge of dooming its chances at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.