With a little over 12 minutes left until the final buzzer, Maryland forward Jairus Hamilton attempted a three-pointer near the right wing in the second half, but it was yet another shot that didn’t go down.
This attempt was tipped up in the air by Rutgers forward Myles Johnson, who started streaking down the floor with the ball in the air. Fellow Scarlet Knight Ron Harper Jr. beat Hamilton to the loose ball and was able to fling it up the floor to Johnson, who scored on a layup with ease to increase the Rutgers lead.
The Terps struggled to shoot the ball all night long, and though the contest was locked in a defensive battle in the first half, the No. 19 Scarlet Knights used a strong second half to take a 74-60 victory in the Big Ten opener.
“We got good shots. We had a lot of wide open looks out there,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “But the one thing they do is they got a little toughness on their defense, they get over ball screens, they do a great job with that...We just didn’t make some open ones. And really, you make three of those open threes in that stretch, it’s a down to the wire game.”
Maryland went a mere 21-for-61 (34%) from the field and 4-of-20 from deep in the defeat, with 14 of its points coming from the free-throw line. Rutgers finished 48% on field goals and 47% on three-point attempts.
Rutgers opened the game with a stifling defense that Maryland simply could not crack. The Scarlet Knights were able to rush out to a 6-2 led while shooting 60% and holding the Terps to 1-for-5 from the field in the first 4:20 of the contest.
Rutgers star guard Geo Baker, who was questionable due to an ankle injury and had played just nine minutes coming into this game, entered the contest with 15:07 remaining in the first half.
Though the Terps were able to keep Baker in check to start, the lack of offense lent itself to build the Scarlet Knight lead. A scoreless drought of 2:34 combined with a 6-0 Rutgers run widened the visitors’ lead to 19-13.
Maryland had a chance to help itself towards the end of the first half as Rutgers went scoreless for four minutes and closed the gap to three points with a 7-0 run. After the Scarlet Knights added a three, the Terps went on another 6-0 run to tie the game at 26. Though they could have jumped ahead it if weren’t for their shooting woes.
Head coach Mark Turgeon called a timeout with 25 seconds left in the first half and the ball in the offensive zone. After the inbounds, Donta Scott got the ball on the left block and went to work. He head-faked his defender and moved towards the paint where a soft hook shot went down to give Maryland its first lead since the 12:25 mark.
The Scarlet Knights’ end to the half put them at 33.3% shooting from the floor, with the Terps actually edging them out at 34.6% and holding on to a 28-27 lead.
Maryland started the second half right where things ended at the break, with Scott getting them going right away. The sophomore broke a screen at the top of the key, secured a long pass from a back-footed Ayala and pulled up from the left wing for the triple. The score gave the Terps their biggest lead of the night at four.
Rutgers answered Maryland’s lead with a quick 10-2 run that swallowed the Terps up and sunk them back to their first-half woes.
“We’re an extremely confident team,” Baker said. “We really felt good coming in this game, we feel good coming in every game. And, you know, you saw that experience out there at the end, I think that really helped us down the stretch.”
Ayala drove hard to the paint, sank a layup and drew a foul that lit up the Maryland bench. After sinking the free-throw, the Terps would look to capitalize on that momentum, but Rutgers found its grove.
The Scarlet Knights responded once again, this time with a 13-2 run that spanned 3:32 in the heart of the half. Another quick spurt created Rutgers’ largest lead, 55-41, which was insurmountable for the struggling Terps.
As the game came to its closing minutes, Maryland seemed to come to life for a bit as Ayala’s up-and-under score through defenders was followed by a tough bucket by Scott who took contact on the way up. The Scarlet Knights responded, though, squeezing the last bit of hope out of Xfinity as Baker hit a dagger from the top of the key with a minute remaining.
Now, the Terps will have eight days off before their last nonconference game of the season against La Salle to get things right.
“I think [the upcoming break] is tremendous,” Ayala said. “After a game like that, I think we’d like to get back out there and compete soon, but I think the eight days with finals will give guys time to lock-in academically. I’m pretty sure it’ll give the coaches time to get ready for practice and us to clear our minds mentally and get ready for our next game.”
Three things to know
1. Maryland didn’t get much help from its bench. The Terps’ bench, which has been key to the team’s offense all season, didn’t produce much in this one. The rotation players only had nine points in the contest, shooting a combined 3-of-13 from the floor. Jairus Hamilton and Hakim Hart were the only two bench players that saw significant minutes.
2. The Terps got into foul trouble in the second half. In the first half, it was Rutgers that gifted Maryland chances at the line, but it was a different story in the second period. The Scarlet Knights got in the bonus early, with over eight minutes left to play. The Terps ended with 10 fouls in the second half and 17 in the game.
3. Ron Harper Jr. gave the Terps trouble. Maryland simply couldn’t slow down Rutgers’ star guard, who scored a game-high 27 points Monday night. Harper shot 10-of-17 from the field and an impressive 5-of-8 from deep. He also had five rebounds, four assists and two blocks, stuffing the stat sheet to lead the Scarlet Knights to victory.
“He was a problem,” Ayala said. “He was feeling it up throughout the night and he hit a lot of big shots. We would get on a run and he’d come down. He played pretty big for them tonight.”