Maryland men’s basketball interim head coach Danny Manning has continued to emphasize that he wants his team to step on the court every game with the mindset of winning each possession and taking games one possession at a time. If the players do that, they’ll head in the direction of winning the game.
The Terps entered their Jan. 15 contest against Rutgers with a lot of energy, as they were coming off of a double-overtime victory against Northwestern Jan. 12. The win snapped a three-game losing streak and was their first Big Ten win of the season.
“Let’s continue with the momentum that we’ve created,” Manning said ahead of the Rutgers game.
But Maryland (9-8, 1-5 Big Ten) failed to continue that momentum, as the Terps fell, 70-59, to Rutgers (10-6, 4-2 Big Ten) at Xfinity Center Jan. 15.
“The second half, we didn’t come out and finish the way we needed to,” Manning said. “… We played well enough in the first half to give ourselves a chance to win. We didn’t finish the way we needed to.”
Here are five takeaways from Maryland’s fifth conference loss of the season.
1. Julian Reese made some noise while Qudus Wahab remained quiet.
Freshman center Julian Reese and junior center Qudus Wahab have had quiet performances recently, but Reese made his first career start as a Terp Jan. 15 and improved on his recent showings.
“It’s just a different look for us,” Manning said. “He came out and did some really good things for us.”
Entering play Jan. 15, Reese had combined for four points in his last two games. The freshman had not scored more than four points since Maryland’s win against Lehigh on Dec. 28, when he posted 12 points. Aside from his missing offense, Reese has appeared to struggle defensively as well. Reese only tallied two rebounds against Northwestern in 15 minutes of play. He also fouled out of the game with less than three minutes remaining in regulation.
But Reese came out firing against Rutgers. The freshman aggressively grabbed a few rebounds on both ends of the court, and his 6-foot-9 frame presented early difficulties for Rutgers. Reese finished the first half with three points, one assist and four rebounds.
Wahab did not appear in the starting lineup for the first time all year and only played eight minutes in the first half. Manning said Wahab will still get playing time despite his struggles.
“Q’s still going to play minutes,” Manning said. “Those two guys will probably flip-flop a little bit more throughout the course of the year.”
Wahab committed three first-half turnovers and only made one layup and a pair of free throws. He finished the half with four points.
Reese had six points and two rebounds in the second half, while Wahab tallied no points.
2. Maryland had no answer for Ron Harper Jr.
Rutgers senior guard Ron Harper Jr. scored a game-high 31 points against Maryland, with 20 of his points coming in the second half.
As the Terps let an 11-point halftime lead slip away, Harper carried his team to victory. He made five 3-pointers toward the end of the game, with one coming as the shot clock expired.
Harper’s play did not slow down as the game neared its end, as he made five free throws in the final minute of the game. He ended the contest 10-for-16 from the field, 6-for-8 from behind the arc and 5-for-6 at the free-throw line. He also posted four rebounds and two assists.
“He’s a talented basketball player within the flow of the game,” Manning said. “He made some tough shots, got to the free-throw line, and a few of those shots he made were contested fairly well.”
3. Eric Ayala carried the Terps in the first half, but he was nearly shut out in the second half.
Maryland senior guard Eric Ayala posted his first career double-double at Northwestern Jan. 12 with 26 points and 11 rebounds. It looked like he was picking up where he left off early against Rutgers.
Nearly four minutes into the first half, Ron Harper Jr. committed a turnover, and Ayala quickly capitalized on it with a 3-pointer. The Wilmington, Del., native drilled another shot from behind the arc quickly thereafter, giving Maryland an 8-4 lead.
Ayala’s surge continued. Nearly a minute later, he stole the ball from Rutgers guard Paul Mulcahy and made a layup to put Maryland up 13-4. Ayala had another layup in the final minute of the first half. He ended the first half with 10 points.
However, Ayala only had three points in the second half. His lone shot was a 3-pointer off of a Rutgers turnover.
4. The Terps started the game strong …
Maryland has struggled with slow starts throughout the year, but the Terps avoided letting the Scarlet Knights build an early lead against them. Maryland came out with high energy from the opening tip. Junior guard Hakim Hart got things rolling for the Terps immediately, as he put his team up by two points with a layup nearly 30 seconds into the game.
Things remained quiet for a few minutes as both Maryland and Rutgers could not seem to make any shots. Eric Ayala, Donta Scott, Julian Reese and Fatts Russell all missed shots during a nearly three-minute span.
But Maryland quickly regained control and was able to generate some offense. Ayala made two consecutive 3-pointers to put Maryland up 8-4, and that momentum continued. Reese stole the ball and immediately triggered a fast break. Hart went in for the layup and extended his team’s lead to 10-4.
Maryland held an 11-point lead (38-27) against Rutgers at the end of the first half thanks to finishing the half on an 18-6 run. A 3-pointer by Scott sparked the run. The Terps gathered the majority of its first-half points from the free-throw line, as it shot 13-for-15 from the line.
“I thought we had really good, active hands defensively, created some deflections and gave us a chance to get out in transition,” Manning said.
5. … but the second half was a struggle.
Maryland started the second half slow despite a strong first-half finish. The Terps did not score their first points until a basket from Julian Reese nearly three and a half minutes into the second half.
Fatts Russell and Hakim Hart both committed turnovers early in the second half. Hart’s mistake allowed Paul Mulcahy to score and put the Scarlet Knights within nine points of the Terrapins (38-29). Wahab also had a turnover that led to a 3-pointer for Rutgers.
Harper applauded his team’s second-half performance. Rutgers outscored Maryland, 43-21, in the half.
“We came in at halftime, we were confident,” Harper said. “We just went in there, and we told each other that we’re playing hard. We’ve just got to play smarter.”
Maryland trailed by four points (49-45) with nearly nine minutes left in the game due to several turnovers and fouls. As the game was nearing its end, something had to change quickly.
Scott’s energy seemed to be the spark the Terps needed, as he nailed a 3-pointer that put Maryland within one point (49-48). After Rutgers claimed another lead, Reese and Russell helped tie the game. But Rutgers controlled the final few minutes and scored 15 of the game’s final 19 points.
“We had opportunities to score the ball, but we just didn’t make shots,” Manning said. “We struggled from the 3-point line, and then we shot four free throws in the second half. Obviously, we would like to shoot more than that.”
Rutgers held Maryland’s top scorers to only a few points apiece in the second half. Ayala finished the game with 13 points; Scott, 12; Hart, 10, and Russell, 9. The Terps only scored four points in the second half came from the free-throw line.
“As a team, we have to adapt better,” Ayala said. “When teams go on runs, we’ve just got to take them and not be defeated by them. The Big Ten is tough. No game is going to be easy, and we’ve just got to compete every night.”
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