I can’t muster any other description for this game than to say how disappointing it was. That signals progress to some degree, in terms of feeling let down rather than the apathy that reigned last season. However, after their recent close losses, this game felt like a step back. In fairness, Maryland is no slouch, as they head home with a 11-6 conference record and a 23-7 record overall. They did hit a rough patch, losing five of their past seven, including three in a row, entering this game. Unfortunately, Rutgers did not play well and the Terps got back to their winning ways much more easily than we had all hoped they would.
A lot could be said about several bad foul calls against Rutgers when the game was close, but that’s an excuse that I’m not going to make. This team needs to understand that if they don’t play good defense at a bare minimum, they have no chance to be competitive. Without a near elite effort on the defensive end, Rutgers isn’t going to be competitive against the top half of the conference. They simply didn’t put up much of a fight.
That was the difference tonight, as Maryland played stifling defense, annoying Rutgers all night in the halfcourt. Everything was difficult on offense and it was because of the Terps strong team defense. On the other end of the floor, Rutgers looked uninspired and came apart at the seams in the second half, with Maryland finding open space to operate at will. They are too talented an offensive team to allow them room to breath and Rutgers paid for it dearly, as the Terps shot 54% from the field and made of 8 of 20 for 40% from three-point range.
After trailing just 32-28 at halftime, Maryland laid the hammer down right from the first whistle and started the second frame on a 17-6 run. Rutgers never recovered, and while they did pick up the pace at times, it never amounted to a sustained run. Mike Williams is the only player who showed any fire in the second half, scoring all 14 of his points in the game after the break. He was 0 of 4 from the field in the opening frame, but shot 6 of 10 after halftime and exhibited his usual toughness. Williams was the victim of a terrible no call after getting body blocked on a drive early in the 2nd half, but it actually ignited his performance and he took off from there. He led Rutgers in rebounding as well, grabbing 6 boards, including 4 offensive. What a joy it has been to watch Williams this season.
The first half was dominated on the offensive end by Deshawn Freeman and CJ Gettys, as they scored 11 and 10 points, respectively. Freeman went 4 of 4 from the free throw line and made a big three to cut the lead to 2 points right before halftime. He didn’t score again and finished with just 5 rebounds. Gettys made several 15 foot jumpers tonight and was really feeling it. He was also held in check after the break, scoring just once and finishing with 12 points on 6 of 8 from the field and 5 boards.
Nigel Johnson had a quiet 9 points and 4 boards, while Corey Sanders was completely frustrated all night. Maryland locked in on him and he was unable to create good looks, which resulted in a 2 of 10 shooting performance from the field, finishing with just 6 points, less than half of his season average. It was just his fourth Big Ten game that he failed to score in double figures.
As a team, Rutgers had a -1 rebounding margin, but got outplayed on the glass most of the game. While they did finish +4 on the offensive glass, they only held a 19-18 edge in second chance points. They needed to dominate in that area and it didn’t happen. Maryland also owned Rutgers in the paint, outscoring them 40-28 in between the blocks. The Terps bench also exposed the reserves of Rutgers, as they held a 36-14 edge, with three players scoring 8 or more points.
In fact, it was the offensive balance of Maryland that was too much for Rutgers to handle, as seven different players scored between 8 and 11 points in this game. Shooting woes continued to plague Rutgers, as they finished 41% from the field, 4 of 17 for 24% from three-point range, and 7 of 12 for 58% from the free throw line. Simply put, Rutgers is not talented enough offensively to consistently compete against the top tier of the conference without great defensive effort. When they play lackluster on the defensive end, as they did in the second half of this game, they will get blown out every time.
There is just one regular season game remaining, with a red hot Illinois club visiting the RAC for a Saturday matinee on senior day. Of course, last season the two teams played into triple overtime, with the Illini winning 110-101. They’ve won three games in a row ahead of tomorrow night’s home finale against Michigan State. Saturday’s game will be senior night for CJ Gettys and walk-on Khalil Batie. Let’s hope for a better effort from the team in their last opportunity to come through with a program best three Big Ten wins in a season.
Tonight was disappointing for sure, but the breakdowns on defense is what was most troubling to me. Overall, their effort was one of the worst all season after halftime. Maybe the long layoff actually hurt them a bit. Regardless, it’s fair to expect a better effort than they produced tonight. After failing to get over the hump and take the lead near the end of the first half, they fell apart quickly after the break. Rutgers will need to regain their defensive identity and rebounding prowess quickly or this season will end with a thud.
For the 1st time this year at home, Pikiell didn't bring any players into the interview room. “When they play hard, they get to sit up here"— Jerry Carino (@NJHoopsHaven) March 1, 2017