The film from the Maryland men’s basketball team’s first meeting with Rutgers, on Dec. 14, 2020, was so old that coach Mark Turgeon wasn’t sure how much his players would benefit from revisiting it.
Since the 74-60 loss at Xfinity Center in both teams’ first Big Ten Conference game of the season, Maryland has grown, buying into a collective defensive approach and learning how to move the ball and play inside-out with its undersized lineups.
The Terps showed their growth at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, New Jersey, beating the Scarlet Knights, 68-59, on Sunday afternoon.
Maryland’s entire starting five scored in double figures, led by junior guard Eric Ayala’s 14 points, as the Terps (14-10, 8-9 Big Ten) won their fourth straight game to bolster their NCAA tournament hopes with three games remaining before the conference tournament begins March 10.
“[I’m] just really proud of our group, to control it the way we did with our defense and then control it with our motion offense was really the way we have to play to be successful,” Turgeon said.
Junior guard Aaron Wiggins had 13 points and 10 rebounds to record his fourth double double of the season. He also scored in double figures for the fifth straight game, tying an earlier stretch this season for the longest of his career.
Maryland used a 6-0 run, capped by a driving layup from sophomore forward Donta Scott (11 points, seven rebounds), to take a 16-14 lead with 10:36 left in the first half and did not trail again. The Terps led 28-20 at halftime, holding the Scarlet Knights without a made field goal over the final 5:16. Rutgers’ 20 points are the fewest it has scored in any half this season.
Maryland led by as many as 15 in the second half, but Rutgers responded with an 11-2 run to cut the Terps’ lead to six, 47-41, with 7:37 left in the game, prompting Turgeon to call a timeout. Out of the break, Maryland went on a 6-0 run to push its lead to 12, including four straight points by senior guard Darryl Morsell, who made an acrobatic layup while fouled and then ran the floor for a transition dunk after a steal by junior forward Jairus Hamilton.
Morsell exited the game in the first half after injuring his right shoulder on an offensive rebound but returned to the game with a brace around his shoulder. The Mount Saint Joseph graduate, who finished with 12 points, three assists and three steals, reinjured the shoulder in the second half and exited for the remainder of the game with about four minutes left.
“[His] shoulder didn’t come all the way out. The term I heard is like, ‘to the edge,’” Turgeon said. “And they popped it back in both times. The first [time] he was really strong, he was in no pain. The second time, he was strong and in no pain but we weren’t going to play him again. He was begging us to put him back in. So, he’ll go back, he’ll see a specialist, he’ll see a doctor tomorrow and we’ll determine where we go from there.”
Of the Terps’ 18 made free throws, 17 came in the second half and the majority of them in the final two minutes as they held off the late comeback bid from the Scarlet Knights. Maryland shot 46.8% from the field and made six of 20 3-point attempts.
Guards Jacob Young and Geo Baker combined for 31 points to lead Rutgers (12-9, 8-9), which shot 38% from the field and made five of 22 3-point attempts, missing 11 straight shots at one point. Guard Ron Harper Jr., who scored 27 points in the teams’ first meeting, was held to six points on 1-for-6 shooting. The Scarlet Knights committed 15 turnovers, which the Terps turned into 20 points.
“It’s key to get some easy ones,” Ayala said. “A lot of times, we try to grind out possessions and get the best shot for our team. So if we could get some easy ones, that‘d help us out a lot, just to take the pressure off our offense and stuff.”
Maryland entered its home game against Minnesota last Sunday at 4-9 in conference play and in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings. After their fourth victory in eight days, the Terps sit in a tie for seventh place with a legitimate chance to finish above .500 before the start of the conference tournament, with games remaining against Michigan State, Northwestern and Penn State, programs that sit in three of the bottom four spots in the standings.
“Hey, we’ve got work to do,” Turgeon said. “We can get better, but I am so pleased. I didn’t know we could turn it [around] like this. I wasn’t sure. And the guys are getting confident. So I’m just really proud of it.”