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Rutgers men’s basketball game preview vs. no. 9 Maryland

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Can the Scarlet Knights close out the RAC on senior night with the biggest win of the season? Find out how to watch, stats & keys to victory.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 07 Maryland at Illinois Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No. 9 Maryland (23-6; 13-5) at Rutgers (18-11; 9-9)

How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes

Where: The RAC (8,000) in Piscataway, New Jersey

Tip-off: Tuesday, March 3 at 7:00 p.m. ET.

TV: BTN - Brandon Gaudin, Stephen Bardo & Andy Katz

Stream: Fox Sports App

Radio: Live Listen - Rutgers Sports Properties Radio Network - WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM/XM 384; Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Justin Sontupe and Jake Ostrove

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers 32nd: Maryland 10th; Rutgers stayed even after last week’s loss at Penn State. The Terps dropped one spot after Saturday’s home loss to Michigan State.

Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 107.2 (79th) Defense 90.3 (9th); Maryland - Offense 112.5 (24th) Defense 91.3 (17th)

KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 66 Maryland 65. Rutgers is given a 52% chance to win.

OTB Guide to KenPom

Vegas Line: Rutgers -1.5

Series History: Maryland leads the all-time series 11-3, including a 56-51 victory at home in early February this season. Rutgers has never beaten the Terps since joining the Big Ten (0-8).

SB Nation’s Maryland Site: Testudo Times

Key Contributors

Maryland - 6’0” senior Anthony Cowan Jr. (16.1 points, 4.7 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.0 steal); 6’10” sophomore Jalen Smith (15.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 53.6 FG%, 38.0 3-pt FG%); 6’6” sophomore Aaron Wiggins (10.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists); 6’5” junior Darryl Morsell (8.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists); 6’5” sophomore Eric Ayala (8.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists); 6’7” freshman Donta Scott (6.2 points, 3.9 rebounds); 6’8” sophomore Ricky Lindo Jr. (1.9 points, 1.9 rebounds)

Rutgers - 6’6” sophomore Ron Harper Jr. (12.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists); 6’4” junior Geo Baker (10.6 points, 3.5 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals); 6’6” senior Akwasi Yeboah (9.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 36.0% 3-pt FG); 6’2” junior Jacob Young (8.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists. 1.0 steal); 6’10” sophomore Myles Johnson (7.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 60.4% FG); 6’7” sophomore Caleb McConnell (7.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists); 6’4” sophomore Montez Mathis (7.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steal); 6’6” freshman Paul Mulcahy (3.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 55.4% FG); 6’9” senior Shaq Carter (3.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, 57.7% FG)

Maryland Scouting Report

Head coach Mark Turgeon is in his ninth season at the helm and with a win tonight, his team can clinch at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title. After winning nine games in a row, the Terps have lost two of three, including a 12 point loss at home on Saturday night to Michigan State.

Maryland is 5-5 in true road games this season. A telling stat is that Maryland is 18-1 when they score 72 or more points, but just 6-5 when they don’t.

The Terps average 71.6 points per game and are shooting 41.7% from the floor, 31.4% from three-point range and 74.7% from the free throw line. In Big Ten play this season, they are 6th in offensive efficiency and 5th in defensive efficiency. They are 35th nationally in scoring defense at just 63.8 points per game.

They have a good point guard in Anthony Cowan Jr, size inside with Jalen Smith and along the perimeter with several guys who score in multiple ways like Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell. The Terps are a physical team that plays great defense and is smart on offense, despite not being a great shooting team. However, they aren’t deep team, mostly playing a rotation of six players.

Notes

As a team, Rutgers is averaging 69.6 points per game and is shooting 44.5% from the floor, 30.0% from three-point range, and 65.0% from the free throw line......Rutgers is currently 10th in Big Ten play in offensive efficiency and 3rd in defensive efficiency.......The Scarlet Knights have the following national ranks: 11th in field goal percentage defense (38.5%); 16th in rebounding (40.03); 18th in scoring defense (62.3); 26th in rebounding margin (+6.0), 34th in blocks (4.6)........RU has an RPI ranking of 58 and 34 in the NET rankings which are used by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee to determine the field of 68 at the end of the season......Rutgers is the only team in Division I playing its final five regular season games with Quad 1 opportunities.

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Keys To Victory

Strong Start to both halves

Rutgers has been a team of two halves of late, as they’ve trailed at halftime by double digits in four of its last six games. However, over that same span, RU has outscored those six opponents by an average of 6.3 points in the second half. Furious comebacks against Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State only resulted in one victory, however. Energy and focus needs to be there from the start.

The Scarlet Knights cannot dig themselves in another first half hole against a Maryland team that can smell its first Big Ten title with a win. They need to attack from the opening tip, get the RAC faithful in peak form early and put pressure on the Terps for the entire 40 minutes. They can’t afford a significant scoring drought they suffered in the first half with a lead against Maryland in the first meeting. Owning the boards and taking advantage of second chance points will reduce that possibility.

Getting up and down the floor is key as well, as Maryland prefers a slow down game and Rutgers can make them uncomfortable by speeding things up at times. Expect some fullcourt pressure defensively in spots and for Rutgers to look to run off of misses and turnovers. Maryland is just 10th in turnover rate in Big Ten play and can be forced into mistakes under pressure, something RU needs to capitalize on.

Alpha Dogs Please Stand Up

Rutgers lost to the likely Big Ten champs on its home court where they were previously unbeaten with Harper scoring Just 6 points and Baker getting shut out. In addition, Jacob Young missed the game entirely due to his one game suspension. That should bring optimism to Rutgers fans for this game and give this team confidence they can win tonight on its home floor.

Baker was not himself at all in the first meeting and wasn’t even on the floor at the end, playing just 19 minutes. Since that loss, he’s averaged 15 points in his last six games and been the unquestioned leader on the floor. Harper Jr. has averaged 15 points as well since the loss to Maryland, including two 20+ point performances.

It’s pretty simple, if Rutgers is going to earn its biggest win of the season and take down a top ten team while preventing them from clinching a share of the Big Ten title, it’s two best players have to have huge games. Getting both going early, particularly Harper Jr., will be important. I think both can do damage from mid-range as well in this matchup.

Make Cowan and Smith earn everything

Rutgers did a decent job on the best two players on Maryland in the first meeting, but they need to defend them even better tonight. An x-factor is Jacob Young being able to defend Cowan effectively, similar to how he frustrated Zavier Simpson at times against Michigan. His ability to make Cowan work on the defensive end based on his driving ability could be a factor as well. As for Smith, Myles Johnson and Shaq Carter need to be strong inside and at least slow him down and make him work hard on both ends. When Rutgers attacks the rim, they need to be smart and either pull up for a short to mid-range jumper or go strong at Smith, looking to draw the foul. Getting sucked in and looking to avoid contact or getting blocked multiple times will spell disaster.

Battle From Charity Stripe

Maryland has the second best free throw rate (35.8%) and best shooting percentage from the foul line (77.5%) in Big Ten play. The one statistical category that the Rutgers defense isn’t in the top six in Big Ten play is defensive free throw rate, which is 12th at 32.0%. On the flip side, Maryland has fouled the 18th least in Division I and have the best defensive free throw rate in Big Ten play at just 23.6%. Offensively, RU is only 10th at getting to the line in conference action at 27.4%.

What does it mean? In the five point loss at Maryland a month ago, the Terps were 12 of 15 from the line and the Scarlet Knights were 4 of 6. With the game at the RAC tonight, this statistical area needs to at least be close to even while ideally flipping to the advantage of Rutgers. Of course, when they do go to the foul line they must capitalize. RU is only shooting 65.3% from the line, which is second to last in Big Ten play. Who they get to the line is most important as Akwasi Yeboah (84.1%), Caleb McConnell (80%), Ron Harper Jr. (77.3%), and Geo Baker (73.5%) have all shot well during Big Ten play. They need to be aware of it, especially in the second half.

Perform another RAC Magic Trick

After starting the season 17-0 at home, Rutgers lost its last home game against Michigan two weeks ago, but feels even longer. It’s senior night for Akwasi Yeboah, Shaq Carter, and Joey Downes, so that alone will bring some juice to a building that hasn’t lacked any all season. Add in the fact that BTN will be doing a live pregame show in the RAC and Maryland being a top ten team looking to clinch the league title, it equals a recipe for an electric atmosphere. This team feeds so well off the home crowd, but they need to maintain its composure in the biggest game of the season. Beating Maryland will be a difficult task, but it certainly is a winnable game for this team and the Terps are coming off an emotional loss, its first at home, on Saturday night. They don’t play a deep rotation and its possible a dogfight in the trapezoid of terror will be too much for them down the stretch. Rutgers needs to deliver some body blows throughout and lean on them in the final minutes. And of course, you do that by making shots and relentless defense down the stretch.

Appropriate Music Selection

For the thirtieth game of the season, I’m featuring Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performing “Swingin”. It’s a song they rarely played and this version was from their last ever tour. The line “We went down swingin’” is certainly appropriate for tonight’s game.

This is the most important Rutgers basketball game in years. Opportunities to take down a top ten team at home are few and far between. Win and major momentum shifts back towards making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 29 years. Sending out the seniors on a victory in a season where the RAC became its own story across college basketball would be satisfying. It would put a nice bow on a phenomenal run at the RAC this season.

Rutgers has been very close to breaking through with big wins and are coming off an emotional 1 point loss to a ranked Penn State team on the road last week. They had a six day break, should have its legs back and have an amazing opportunity in front of them. This team ALWAYS leaves everything they have on the floor and NEVER quits. Tonight is a chance to combine its relentless playing style with a complete performance against one of the best teams in college basketball. Has Rutgers saved the best for last? Time to come out swingin’.