After being humbled at the hands of Clemson less than a week ago, Maryland men’s basketball returns to Xfinity Center to face one of its toughest opponents on its schedule so far in No. 10 Rutgers.
The Terps trip to South Carolina represented the team’s first real test of the year, previously blowing out the likes of Old Dominion, Navy, Mount St. Mary’s and Saint Peter’s. The Tigers’ defensive intensity at the point of attack severely exposed some of the Terps’ weaknesses offensively, with the team scoring its sixth fewest points in a game since the 2009-10 season.
“It was very humbling. experience for all of us,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We’ve had a great week ... I think sometimes it’s good early in the year to get punched in the mouth and kind of really figure out where you are.”
Maryland was left with just five days to correct its offensive woes, now welcoming an opponent its enjoyed a good deal of success against in recent memory. The Terps are 8-1 against the Scarlet Knights since joining the Big Ten in 2014, though they lost their most recent matchup in Piscataway 78-67.
“We know that going into league play, we can have an entirely different mindset that we can be a great team — we are a great team,” senior forward Galin Smith said.
The game is set to tip-off at 6 p.m., and will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
No. 19 Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
2019-20 record: 20-11 (11-9 Big Ten)
Head coach Steve Pikiell has been in charge of leading the rebuild of Rutgers basketball since the 2016-17 season. In those four seasons, Pikiell has led the Scarlet Knights to a 64-64 (.500) overall record.
The 2019-20 season, however, was an explosion on the scene for Rutgers as the program finished above .500 (20-11, 11-9 Big Ten) for the first time since 2005-06 as a member of the Big East. The Scarlet Knights were also ranked for eight weeks last season, marking the first time the program was in the AP Poll since the 1978-79 season. Pikiell received the Jim Phelan Award, which is given to the nation’s top Division I head coach.
Players to Know
* Geo Baker has been omitted from this section, as he is dealing with an ankle injury and isn’t expected to play in this game.
1. Ron Harper Jr. junior forward, 6’6, 245 lbs. No. 24 — Harper ended his sophomore campaign with a team-high 12.1 points per game, earning him Honorable Mention All-Big Ten. In the first four games this season, the 245 lb. body is leading the team in points per game with 22.3, which is fourth best in the conference. Harper is also leading the team in rebounds and three-point percentage and is second in minutes.
2. Jacob Young, senior guard, 6’2, 185 lbs., No. 42 — After the injury to star point guard Geo Baker in the season opener, Young has stepped into the leadership role quickly. The senior has a team-high 6.8 assists per game and is leading in minutes with 34.3 per game and steals per game with 3.3. Young played in all but one minute in the team’s last game against Syracuse, securing his first double-double of the season with 18 points and 10 assists.
3. Montez Mathis, junior guard, 6’4, 210 lbs., No. 10 — Mathis has been one of Rutgers’ most consistent scorers of the early season, securing double digit points in each of the team’s first four games. The Baltimore native is second on the team with points per game at 16.3 with a compliment of 4.8 boards. Mathis is also hot off his last game, scoring a season high 19 points and seven rebounds.
Scoring efficiency. Through its first four games of the season, Rutgers has been one of the most efficient scoring teams in the nation. As a team, the Scarlet Knights have shot 52.9 percent from the field, ranking 18th in Division I and third in the Big Ten in that category behind Illinois and Maryland.
Free throw shooting. Although Rutgers has done a strong job when it comes to scoring from the field, its done a less than stellar job from the charity stripe. With its team free throw shooting percentage hovering just under 60 percent, the Scarlet Knights rank 295th in the country in that category and dead last in the conference.
Three Things to Watch
1. How big of a role will Donta Scott play? Through the first five games of the season, Donta Scott has looked like the best player on this Maryland team. He’s leading in rebounds per game (7.0), three-point percentage (61.5%) and is tied for the most blocks (5).
His 11.6 points per game, brought down by a two-point performance against Navy — a game in which he only took two shots — is third on the team, with Eric Ayala in first, followed by Hakim Hart, who had one 32-point game. But Scott has the best percentage of the trio, shooting 69% from the floor. He’s also been a standout in the Big Ten, currently second in the league in plus/minus, only behind Iowa’s Luka Garza.
“He’s really worked on his shot and he’s confident in the game to shoot it. I think that opens the game so much,” senior guard Reese Mona said. “He’s actually become a great leader. So he’s only a sophomore, but it feels like he’s been here a while now the way he’s comfortable, confident, talking to guys, coaching any new guys, any old guys, he’s talking.”
The sophomore could be a huge factor in the team’s success, but in order for that to happen, he needs to be a locked in starter over Jairus Hamilton and on the court more than the 24.2 minutes per game he is currently averaging. Will Turgeon make Scott more of a centerpiece of the offense as the team enters Big Ten play?
2. Will Maryland be able to penetrate the Rutger’s defense? Rutger’s team identity lies in its hounding defense, which only allowed the Terps to score an average 61.5 points through the teams’ two matchups in 2019-20. The Scarlet Knight defense has ripped teams apart so far this season, forcing 14.5 turnovers per game and holding opposing offenses to an average 37.9% from the floor and 30% from deep.
After struggling tremendously against Clemson’s defense, will the Terps find a way to work around a hounding Rutger’s defense?
3. How will the Terps fare against their first ranked opponent? The start of Big Ten play means a huge rise in competition and loads of ranked opponents, starting with the No. 19 Scarlet Knights. A victory against such a highly regarded team could be a huge confidence boost for the Terps, but it won’t be an easy task, especially considering how much the team struggled against Clemson. Will Maryland step up to the challenge?
“We know we have to play better than we did the other night to be an NCAA Tournament team and be a part of this league race,” Turgeon said.
Vegas: Maryland -2.5
ESPN BPI: Maryland 54.5% chance to win
Kenpom: Maryland 70, Rutgers 69 (53% chance to win)
Us: Rutgers 72, Maryland 70
Editors Note: Rutgers’ ranking has been changed to reflect the AP Top 25 poll released Monday.