After letting the Big Ten regular season title slip out of its hands Saturday, No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball will once again have another shot Tuesday.
The Terps, who most recently lost to then-No. 24 Michigan State 66-78 in front of a sold out Xfinity crowd, travel to Piscataway, New Jersey, Tuesday in a matchup with Rutgers for their final true road game of the season. The Scarlet Knights are 17-1 on their home turf.
“Intimate — right on top of you,” head coach Mark Turgeon said about the RAC. “They have been good for a while — this good, NCAA Tournament good.. ... But it’s just a great building, and their kids play well at home.”
Maryland, which maintained the No. 9 spot in Monday’s AP Top 25 poll, currently holds a one-game lead over Illinois, Michigan State and Wisconsin for first place in the Big Ten standings, while Rutgers is tied with Michigan for fifth place.
The last time the Terps and Rutgers squared off, Maryland pulled out a 56-51 victory in College Park Feb. 4. Here’s the preview from the first time the two teams met.
Tuesday’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET and will be televised on BTN.
What happened last time
When these two teams met at Xfinity Center just under a month ago, Rutgers was on a bit of a decline after picking up victories against then-No. 22 Seton Hall and then-No. 20 Penn State earlier in the season.
But in their matchup with the Terps, the Scarlet Knights took an early 25-20 lead at halftime, which can partially be attributed to Maryland shooting 24 percent from the floor and only making two baskets over the final 12 minutes of the half. The team went 7-for-29 from the floor in the first 20 minutes.
Anthony Cowan Jr., Darryl Morsell and Jalen Smith led a surge in the second half, combining for 45 points and 25 rebounds to overcome a five-point deficit. But the most impressive aspect of Smith’s performance against Rutgers was his rim protection.
The sophomore from Baltimore racked up a career-high six blocks, including one that potentially saved the game. With less than a minute to go, Rutgers guard Caleb McConnell drove to the rim in an attempt to put his team ahead, and Smith sent the shot back. The Rutgers did not score again for the remainder of the contest and lost its second-consecutive game.
The Terps, on the other hand, won their fifth-straight game — a streak that eventually extended to nine games — and improved to 13-0 at home.
What’s happened since
Following their victory against the Scarlet Knights, the Terps took down then-No. 20 Illinois, Nebraska, Michigan State and Northwestern to win nine consecutive games.
But the team’s win-streak came to an end in Columbus, Ohio, Feb. 23 against then-No. 25 Ohio State, which won 79-72.
Cowan and Smith struggled in the same game for the first time this season, combining for only 18 points on 4-of-12 shooting from the field. Cowan couldn’t compete for the final 3:56 of the game after picking up a technical foul — his fifth personal — after he thought he was thrown down on a layup attempt.
Three days later in Minneapolis, Maryland found itself down 16 points at halftime due to Minnesota’s phenomenal shooting (57.1 percent from the field and 53.85 percent from three-point range) in the first 20 minutes of regulation.
But, once again, the Terps mounted a comeback. After a missed one-and-one opportunity, the Terps pushed in transition and found Morsell for the game-winning three-pointer at the top of the key. The sophomore hit nothing but net with 1.9 seconds left, giving his team a 73-72 win to overcome a combined 47-point performance from Daniel Oturu and Marcus Carr.
Maryland returned home for a primetime matchup with then-No. 24 Michigan State, which included a sold-out crowd, a flash mob and College GameDay. But the team didn’t appear up to the challenge and was outplayed by head coach Tom Izzo’s squad.
The Spartans jumped out to a 17-5 lead to start the game and never looked back. Michigan State controlled the boards with a 35-29 advantage and capitalized on its 10 offensive rebounds, racking up 19 second chance points. Cowan struggled against the Spartans and finished with 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting from the field and 0-of-3 from deep, along with a team-high four turnovers.
Five days after their matchup with the Terps, the Scarlet Knights pulled off a 77-73 overtime victory against Northwestern behind Geo Baker’s season-high 25 points. The team then suffered a 66-72 loss to the Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio.
Back on its home turf, Rutgers then relied on its defense and limited then-No. 22 Illinois to only 31.1 percent (19-of-61) from the field to earn a 72-57 victory — its third double-digit victory over a nationally ranked team at the RAC.
With the win, the Scarlet Knights improved their home record to 17-0 and earned a ninth conference win for the first time in 21 years.
But the team couldn’t build on that victory, losing its next three games to Michigan — its first home loss of the season — Wisconsin and then-No. 16 Penn State. The Scarlet Knights erased a 21-point Nittany Lion lead, but couldn’t come out on top at the final buzzer and lost 64-65.
Three things to watch
1. How do the Terps respond after a deflating loss? The stage was set and the stands were filled. But Maryland couldn’t capitalize on its own home court this past Saturday against Michigan State and lost its first opportunity to grip a share of the Big Ten regular season title.
The Terps didn’t play anywhere near their best basketball against the Spartans, shooting 42.6 percent from the field, 30 percent from deep and 66.7 percent from the charity stripe. And though there were 40 minutes in regulation, the game was over in the first few minutes when Michigan State built a 17-5 lead, which it never looked back from.
Maryland still have another shot at capturing a share of the Big Ten championship Tuesday in Piscataway. But if it loses, the team would fall into a tie with Michigan State, Illinois and Wisconsin — all of which are just a game behind — at the top of the Big Ten.
“We’ve got a game tomorrow. You can’t dwell on the past. This is a tough conference. So you can’t be worried about something that happened in the past against Michigan State, because we’ve got Rutgers tomorrow,” Morsell said. “Rutgers is going to give us their all — the RAC is a tough place to play. So we’ve got to move on — I feel like we have moved on.”
2. Does the trio of Anthony Cowan Jr., Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins bounce back from their poor shooting performance? As previously mentioned, Cowan did not have his best showing against the Spartans — but neither did Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala.
The trio shot a combined 0-of-10 from deep against Michigan State, and Ayala and Wiggins put together a total of seven points. The duo has shown what it is capable of recently, combining for 36 points against Ohio State Feb. 23, but hasn’t been able to build on it.
Cowan has struggled the past three games, shooting 26 percent from the floor (9-of-34), while going 0-of-12 on three-point attempts.
“His confidence is never questioned [by anybody]. We never question his play. We know he’s going to find his stroke,” Smith said. “Everybody has a slump every once in a while, and he’s got to find his way out of it. And no matter what, he’s going to keep shooting, and we’re going to keep telling him to shoot.”
Obviously this isn’t a great sign for the Terps as the calendar flips to March, but the trio will have an opportunity to get back on track Tuesday night against the Scarlet Knights.
3. How will Rutgers’ layoff impact the game? Unlike the Terps, who played three games in a span of seven days last week, Rutgers is entering the matchup with a five-day break in between games. The Scarlet Knights’ most recent game was against Penn State on Feb. 26.
With the season coming down to the wire, any additional rest a team can get could be vital to give it an extra boost in the final few minutes of the matchup.
“We took yesterday off, the guys should be fresh,” Turgeon said. “It’s college basketball, every team is a little bit fatigued right now, mentally and physically. ...We’re in a great spot. We have no excuses — we’re going to be fresh, we’re going to be ready to play this week.”
Vegas: Rutgers -1.5, O/U 131.5
ESPN BPI: Maryland has 50.7 percent chance to win.
KenPom: Maryland 65, Rutgers 66 (Maryland has 48 percent chance to win.)
Me: Maryland 60, Rutgers 64