In Sunday afternoon’s battle for Big Ten supremacy, the Maryland women’s basketball team not only took command of first place in the conference standings with a 62-48 win over Rutgers, but the Terps also exacted revenge.
Maryland came out playing as if it had been personally wronged by the Scarlet Knights, and in a way, the team had. On New Year’s Eve, Rutgers handed the then-fourth-ranked Terps their only home loss of the season, 73-65, just their fourth Big Ten loss at home since joining the conference in 2014.
No. 10 Maryland (22-2, 11-2 Big Ten) hasn’t been back in the top five since, but Sunday’s drubbing sent a message. The Terps returned the favor and handed No. 20 Rutgers its first home loss this season, and it did so with muscle.
“It just speaks volumes to the growth of our team since we last played them,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “There's kind of defining moments in seasons, and for us, I just love the response that we've had where twice we've had to be taught a lesson of where we need to be, and the response out of our vets and the leadership that we have from this team is growing.”
The Terps fixed what had ailed them during the season’s first meeting. Maryland was passive and lacked energy on the glass in December; on Sunday, it better used its height advantage and out-rebounded Rutgers 35-24 as the Scarlet Knights’ post players struggled on both ends of the court all game.
“At the end of the day, those big people were too much for us,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said.
That energy the Terps showed in rebounding lasted well after their lead eclipsed 20 points toward the end of the third quarter. One of the Maryland players’ bigger celebrations came after a wide-open Brianna Fraser took a few lax dribbles to drain the clock at the end of the period before hitting a jumper at the buzzer — her shot put the Terps up 53-34, but she was engulfed by teammates and awarded a chest-bump from Maryland’s trainer as if it had been a game-winner.
In reality, the game was decided well before halftime. The Terps opened with a strong first quarter on defense and outscored the Scarlet Knights 18-4 thanks to an aggressive three-quarter-court press and tight defense in the lane.
Rutgers (17-6, 9-3) shot 2-for-12 from the field and got rattled as Maryland took time off the shot clock. The Scarlet Knights were so off that four Terps were able to poke the ball away for steals, and Rutgers never recovered. After halftime, it didn’t get within 14 points of the lead.
“They were much better, tighter defensively,” Stringer said. “There were times when they would double, we would drive and they did a nice job of stopping the penetration, people surrounding us, and that's what caused us to turn the ball over instead of being able to see it, keep the ball, back it out and continue to move it.
“We needed to control the game better; we didn’t. We blew the first quarter, and that’s the best way to say it. … Obviously, Maryland showed up big-time. I know that they wanted to avenge the loss that they had, and we just didn't step to it and match their intensity the way that we would have to with a team of that magnitude.”
It was the Scarlet Knights’ second Big Ten loss in a row, after a 60-46 defeat at Minnesota.
Arella Guirantes led the Scarlet Knights with 20 points off the bench, and the team’s leading scorer this season, Stasha Carey, had 15, 13 of which came in the second half when Maryland was already leading by double digits. Carey, who had a team-high 18 against the Terps in December, shot 1-for-5 from the field before halftime Sunday.
Maryland held three of Rutgers’ starters scoreless, and a fourth, Ciani Cryor, had just two points. Terps junior Kaila Charles said the difference between the team’s defense this game and in December was attention to detail.
“We really focused in on having ball pressure, being there, getting over the screens, and I think the guards today did a really good job of executing,” she said.
Charles led Maryland with 17 points and Stephanie Jones (Aberdeen) had 12. Blair Watson added nine points, including two 3-pointers, and a team-high eight rebounds.
The Terps return home for a game against Nebraska (11-13, 6-7) at Xfinity Center on Thursday night before facing another Big Ten heavyweight this season, No. 16 Iowa (18-5, 10-3), in Iowa City on Sunday.
“I love that we're in control, just getting better and controlling what we can control,” Frese said when asked whether she was pleased to have some separation between her team, second-place Iowa and third-place Rutgers.
“When we play like this, great things are in store for us. But there are no easy games remaining.”
MARYLAND (22-2): Austin 0-0 1-4 1, Jones 4-7 4-4 12, Charles 7-10 3-4 17, Mikesell 1-7 2-2 5, Watson 3-8 1-2 9, Fraser 4-5 0-0 8, Lewis 2-2 0-0 4, Myers 0-0 0-0 0, Vujacic 2-4 1-1 6, Totals 23-43 12-17 62.
RUTGERS (17-6): Carey 6-13 3-5 15, Harris 0-0 0-2 0, Calhoun 0-5 0-0 0, Cryor 1-3 0-0 2, Wilson 0-6 0-0 0, Gilles 1-3 2-2 4, Wallace 1-1 0-0 2, Broughton 1-3 1-2 3, Guirantes 7-13 4-4 20, Mack 1-3 0-0 2, Peleg Pelc 0-3 0-0 0, Totals 18-53 10-15 48.
Maryland 18 16 19 9 _ 62
Rutgers 4 17 13 14 _ 48
3-point goals—Maryland 4-13 (Jones 0-1, Mikesell 1-4, Watson 2-5, Vujacic 1-3), Rutgers 2-16 (Calhoun 0-3, Cryor 0-2, Wilson 0-2, Gilles 0-1, Broughton 0-2, Guirantes 2-2, Mack 0-1, Peleg Pelc 0-3). Assists—Maryland 15 (Lewis 7), Rutgers 9 (Broughton 2). Fouled out—Maryland Fraser. Rebounds—Maryland 35 (Watson 8), Rutgers 24 (Carey 7). Total fouls—Maryland 18, Rutgers 20. Technical fouls—None. A—4,573.