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Rutgers loses hard fought defensive battle to no. 9 Maryland 56-51

It was a tremendous effort by the Scarlet Knights, but they fell short in the end.

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday night against a top ten team on the road against Maryland, who was undefeated coming in, Rutgers went toe for toe and gave the Terps all they could handle. Despite being without Jacob Young, who was suspended for this game, RU played tough the entire 40 minutes. It was a great defensive effort from both sides, but the Scarlet Knights fell short in the final minute of the game due to a couple critical mistakes. Led by star Anthony Cowan Jr, who had a game high 17 points, Maryland won the hard fought affair 56-51. While Rutgers struggled mightily on the offensive end, they held the Terps to 16 points below its scoring average.

Maryland jumped out to a 14-6 lead behind 4 of 7 shooting from behind the arc. It looked like it could end up being a long night for the Scarlet Knights against a team that averaged 79 points in its last three games and were undefeated at home. Instead, Rutgers responded with a 7-0 run that ballooned into a game changing 19-4 run.

Akwasi Yeboah gave RU the initial lift by scoring 11 points, including three three-pointers. Baltimore native Montez Mathis had two big baskets as well. The defense forced the Terps into contested shots on multiple possessions, as well as keeping dangerous guards Anthony Cowan and Aaron Wiggins in check early. Maryland fell into a seven-plus minute scoreless stretch. Rutgers led 25-18 with five minutes remaining in the opening frame, but unfortunately fell into an offensive slump as well. They went into a three-plus minute scoreless stretch of its own.

The Terps broke through with two made free throws from Anthony Cowan to cut the lead to 5 points with under two minutes left in the half. Neither team could make a field goal though. Maryland missed its last 11 shots of the first half in over a nine minute stretch. Rutgers missed its last 6 shots over the last five minutes of the opening frame. Despite being unable to extend the lead further, the Scarlet Knights put together an impressive defensive effort to lead 25-20 at the half.

It was an ugly offensive performance from both sides, as Maryland shot just 24% from the floor, while Rutgers was at 39%. However, it was a defensive masterpiece from both sides. The fact that RU was in control for as long as they were after falling into a quick 8 point deficit showed the heart of this team. Neither team got much inside, as RU held a 6-4 edge with points in the paint and just a 2-0 edge in fast break points.

Out of halftime, both teams continued to struggle and didn’t score until after two minutes into the second half. Ron Harper Jr. picked up his third foul and headed to the bench with just two points in the game. The Terps then got things going in transition though as Darryl Morsell scored two layups and Rutgers called a timeout hanging on to a 27-26 lead with 16:54 left to play.

Things began to unravel a bit as Jalen Smith finally took over, sparking a 7-0 run that put Maryland in the lead at 34-29 six miunutes into the second half. The Terps were outscoring RU 14-4 in the second half this juncture.

Harper Jr. came back in and made a great drive and dish to Shaq Carter, who slammed it home to cut the lead to 3. Soon after Carter was fouled and attempted the first free throws of the game for Rutgers, making 1 of 2.

Serrel Smith Jr. scored for Maryland but Caleb McConnell answered with a huge contested jumper to make it 36-34 at the midway point. Soon after Geo Baker, who was scoreless at this point, picked up his third foul of the game in addition to Harper Jr. and Paul Mulcahy.

Maryland’s Darryl Morsell scored off an offensive rebound and after a bad three-point attempt from Harper Jr, Wiggins knocked down a dagger from behind the arc. However, Mulcahy kept looking for his shot and made his second basket of the game.

It had been a long drought for Anthony Cowan and he hit a huge three at the top of the key, as Maryland led 44-36 with 8 minutes to play.

Rutgers continued to battle and were relentless on the offensive glass during this stretch, but they couldn’t knock down a shot. They were 5 of 23 from the floor at this stage in the second half, while Maryland was 10 of 20 since halftime. The Scarlet Knights couldn’t get out in transition and that was a huge key in this game. While they didn’t allow Maryland many easy baskets, the Terps made RU work for everything offensively and the talent discrepancy was apparent.

Finally, the Scarlet Knights got a spark as Montez Mathis scored on a offensive rebound and then soon after hit a runner on a rainbow shot along the baseline. Despite another Cowan three-pointer that put the Terps back up 8, Harper Jr. scored off another offensive rebound, Maryland’s lead was down to 47-43 with under five minutes to play.

There was a stoppage of play for a review that resulted on a hook and hold technical foul call on Cowan, which was huge for Rutgers as Mathis went to the free throw line. He calmly made both and RU got the ball back down 2 with 4:23 to play. Harper Jr. called for the ball, took a step back jumper and drained it to tie the game at 47. The Scarlet Knights were on a 11-3 run after it looked like the game was about to get out of hand. It was an impressive comeback and it was clear this team has alligator blood.

Cowan made both free throws after the last media timeout to put the Terps back up 2. Myles Johnson had it inside but found Yeboah on the perimeter, who hit a long contested jumper for his first basket since the early part of the game.

Harper Jr. pulled down a strong defensive rebound to stop Maryland, but Rutgers failed to hit the rim as the shot clock expired.

With just over two minutes remaining, Cowan Jr. caught Mathis reaching and he went up for the three-pointer, drawing the foul. It was a huge moment in the game, as the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week made all three free throw attempts and Rutgers ltrailed 52-49 with 2:13 to play.

Rutgers continued to battle and Johnson dunked on a great drive and dish from Yeboah. It was a one point game. On the next Maryland possession, Jalen Smith was called for a moving screen. However, Yeboah took a contested three and missed. Maryland had the ball with just over a minute to play and Cowan missed a layup. McConnell grabbed the rebound, went the length of the floor, but had his shot blocked by Jalen Smith, his sixth of the game. Morsell was fouled by McConnell on the defensive rebound and he headed to the free throw line with 53.8 seconds remaining. He made 1 of 2, as Rutgers had the ball trailing 53-51.

McConnell drove but threw a wild pass that resulted in a turnover. Rutgers picked up fullcourt pressure, but the Terps broke it and Yeboah fouled Morsell with 26.9 seconds left in the game. Pikiell decided to extend the game at the line, but in this instance, Morsell made both as RU trailed 55-51. McConnell took a contested three and that was all she wrote. Maryland survived a valiant effort from Rutgers, winning the game by the final score of 56-51.

For the game, both teams shot just 34% from the floor. The difference was from three-point range, as Maryland shot a decent 30%, making 8 of 27 attempts, while Rutgers made just 3 of 17 for 18%. The Terps also held a predictable edge from the foul line, making 12 of 15 while RU was 4 of 6. Otherwise it was fairly even, as Maryland was +1 on the boards, while the Scarlet Knights were +2 on turnovers. The Terps held a 18-16 edge with points on the paint, but als beat Rutgers at its own game in holding a 14-4 advantage with fast break points.

Akwasi Yeboah led RU with 13 points including 3 of 5 from three-point range, but he had just 2 points after the midway point of the first half. He added 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals, as he continued to be a reliable presence on both ends of the floor for Rutgers. Montez Mathis had some key moments and was the only other player to score in double digits with 10 points on 4 of 10 shooting, as well as 7 rebounds.

Geo Baker continued to struggle, as he was held scoreless on 0-4 shooting and was on the bench down the stretch. Caleb McConnell deserved to have the ball in his hands at the end, but unfortunately he made some bad decisions and had a costly turnover and a poor three-point shot attempt that was contested with the game on the line. He finished with 6 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals, but went just 3 of 13 from the floor and had 3 turnovers. Harper Jr. also struggled again, scoring just 6 points on 3 of 9 shooting, adding 6 rebounds and 3 blocks. Myles Johnson had just 5 points but led the team with 8 rebounds.

This team continues to battle through adversity and the loss of Jacob Young was certainly a hard pill to swallow in this game. They could have used his defensive intensity and ability to create plays off the dribble. Even so, Rutgers refused to quit and gave no. 9 Maryland (18-4; 8-3) an absolute fight till the end. They failed to extend the lead at the end of the first half after holding Maryland for so long, but don’t forget they faced one of the best defensive teams in the country as well. The Scarlet Knights will get another shot at the Terps on senior night in the regular season finale at the RAC in about a month.

Up next, a much needed return to the RAC as Rutgers (16-7; 7-5) hosts last place Northwestern on Sunday night. They also get a few days between games to rest and recharge for the stretch run. Whether Young is back remains to be seen, but this Rutgers team has been resilient all year and have a great opportunity to bounce back at the RAC. The key is getting Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr., the leading scorers all season, back on track and in rhythm within the offense. Without them, Rutgers will struggle to knock off the best of the Big Ten, but they’ve proven they can battle to the end against anyone.


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