Both sophomore center Bruno Fernando and junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. were on the bench for one stretch, having been pulled by coach Mark Turgeon. It looked like another long afternoon on the road for the Terps.
By halftime, it was a blowout — for Maryland, which went on to claim a 77-63 road victory over the Scarlet Knights.
The Terps used balanced scoring with six reaching double figures and some pesky defense to finish the first half on a 33-6 run — including 16 straight points in one stretch — to build a 21-point halftime lead and go ahead by as many as 27 points in the second half.
Freshman forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph), who scored the last seven points in his team’s 74-72 win Wednesday over the Cornhuskers, led Maryland (12-3, 3-1 Big Ten) with 16 points. Cowan finished with 15.
Freshman guards Serrel Smith Jr. and Eric Ayala each added 11. Fernando finished one rebound shy of his fourth straight double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds. Fernando added five assists (tying a career high), two blocks and two steals.
“It’s hard to win on the road. To win the way we did is good,” said Turgeon, whose team will go back on the road Tuesday at Minnesota. “More importantly, it’s how we’re playing. We’re getting better. We gained a lot of confidence from getting a close win the other night.”
Asked if had pulled Cowan and Fernando early to send a message to them and the rest of his team, Turgeon said that wasn’t the intention.
“I thought Bruno was tired and I thought Anthony was tired during that stretch,” Turgeon said. “I think we started making shots. We got to the foul line. And our defense was terrific.”
Instead of panicking in a loud road environment, the young Terps played with precision. Trailing 15-12 after being down 13-7, Maryland scored on five straight possessions to quiet the raucous crowd and quell any thoughts of Rutgers (7-6, 0-3) winning its first Big Ten game of the season.
“We knew we were going to get Rutgers’ best shot, especially early,” Turgeon said. “They had time to get ready for us [having not played since Dec. 29]. They played great [early in the game]. They had great energy. The building was terrific.
“And then we just were really good. We were as good as we’ve been defensively. We were as good as we’ve been offensively. We shared the ball and we just finished the half the right way. … To be honest with you, I thought we started pretty well considering we were 2-for-12 to start.“
Asked how important it was to build momentum after Wednesday’s win, Jalen Smith said, “It’s very important. Coach told us that every team in the Big Ten is a tough team. We just focused on what we did bad the last game and just executed.”
Rare Big Ten blowout
The 21-point halftime lead was the largest for the Terps on the road since it joined the Big Ten in 2014-15, one more point than its 40-20 lead at Northwestern in 2015-16. Until the Scarlet Knights (7-6, 0-3) cut into their 69-42 deficit with 5:36 remaining, Maryland threatened to win by its largest margin of victory in a Big Ten road game.
The 20-point win at Rutgers two years ago remains the most one-sided road win for the Terps since joining the league with the Scarlet Knights for the 2014-15 season.
“We played a little bit like a young team in the second half,” Turgeon said. “We lost our concentration a little bit. … We are who we are. But we are getting better. And we’re talented and we’re figuring it out. That’s what’s important.”
Given how many close games the Terps seem to play, especially in the Big Ten, Cowan acknowledged it was a little strange to be up by so many so early.
“Kind of,” he said. “But that’s not an excuse to try to end the game like we should. No team is going to take it easy on us, so why should we take it easy on them?”
Eight of the 10 players Turgeon used Saturday were on the court for double-digit minutes and Cowan’s 31 minutes were a team high.
“After we lost to Seton Hall, I said, ‘We’ve got to build depth. We’re getting tired late in games,’ ” Turgeon said. “We’ve done it and guys have stepped up and played well. … They’re all playing with confidence. Even Ivan [Bender]. Ivan had six rebounds in [13 minutes].”
The biggest lift off the bench came from Serrel Smith Jr., who provided some offensive punch and defensive energy in his 21 minutes. Smith, who came to Maryland known mostly as a shooter and explosive scorer, hit three of five shots from the field, four of five from the free-throw line and had two steals.
“I think i[having depth] means a lot,” Cowan said. “We have another game on Tuesday, so I think that’s important. And Coach was doing a really good job at subbing. We’ve just got to keep winning.”
Mathis gets excited
Former John Carroll standout Montez Mathis, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound freshman shooting guard whom Maryland had spent time recruiting, finished with career highs of 11 points and eight rebounds to go with three assists and two steals in his fifth straight start. He was only one of two players for Rutgers to be on the court for more points than the Scarlet Knights allowed.
“He was fired up, wasn’t he?” Turgeon said. “There’s so many guys in our area. It seems like every game we’re playing against [guys] that wanted to play at Maryland. I was happy for him. He’s a great kid. He’s a big piece for them. He really helps them defensively. He gives them energy.”
At one point, Mathis got tangled up with Fernando going for a rebound and the two players had to be separated. Mathis did his best to downplay how motivated he was playing against the Terps.
“The first half of the season, I wasn’t giving all I can give,” Mathis said. “I wanted to start the first game of the New Year off with some intensity.”
INSTANT ANALYSIS: Given the way his team played on the road last season in the Big Ten, winning just its first and last game — and the fact that it lost at Purdue in December — Turgeon was a bit concerned going into Saturday’s game. That Rutgers had recently lost a close game at Seton Hall and had been off since Dec. 29 added to his worries. Winning in a rout, a rarity for the Terps in the Big Ten the past two seasons, should help Turgeon and his players heading to Minneapolis for what is expected to be a much tougher game.