Maryland goes small to Rak up big win over Rutgers 68-59
In a highly anticipated rematch between two Big 10 teams in need of wins before selection sunday, Maryland was able to siege their fifth Quad one victory to avenge an earlier loss to Rutgers at the start of the season.
When they last squared off, Rutgers won handily having already identified their Knight in shining armor in Ron Harper Junior. In that contest Harper was able to put up twenty-seven points including nineteen in the second half. Maryland on the other hand was still searching the Kingdom for a hero to rise up and become the go to scorer they desperately needed. That was in mid December and after running the gauntlet of the Big 10 Maryland has not only forged their defense together, but also found its hero in Aaron Wiggins.
While fans might not be able to see a team’s growth throughout the steady course of a season, today’s nine-point victory was a twenty three-point turnaround compared to the December game played earlier this season. Maryland’s fifth ranked strength of schedule and lack of depth at the forward position, has forced Mark Turgeon to lean into his smaller lineups and reduce Galin Smith and Jairus Hamilton to role players with starting experience.
This coaching decision was questioned early in the game as Myles Johnson dominated Donta Scott on the opening possession. Johnson would receive the ball low in the paint and would find an easy look over the much smaller Scott. On the other end, Scott had the advantage further away from the basket, but Scott would air ball a wide-open shot from beyond the arc. Steve Pikiell’s army got the ball back inside to Johnson and he would again score an easy basket.
The early indication was Johnson would dominate Maryland for rest of the afternoon. However, Maryland would adjust by fronting Johnson and forcing difficult inbound passes to the big man causing several turnovers over the course of the game. In fact, Johnson would not score another basket the remainder of the game.
Johnson was not the only Scarlet Knight to struggle on the day as Maryland’s defense put Rutgers offense in the dark ages holding Rutgers to only twenty first half points that was their lowest of the season. Leading scorer Ron Harper Junior who averages sixteen points a game and has scored a field goal in seventy consecutive games was held to one field goal that he scored with less than three minutes to play.
The smaller lineup also provided a renaissance for the Maryland offense as the ball seemed to rotate to open players and all five starters finished the game with double digit scoring and shot over forty-six percent shooting from the field. Aaron Wiggins had a double double with thirteen points and ten rebounds as he continues to lead the charge to the postseason for Maryland.
The win is Maryland’s fourth consecutive conference win in the last seven days which has catapulted their tournament resume and broken down the castle walls to the big dance. Maryland leads the country with fifteen quad one games, has five quad one victories including four wins on the road.
Maryland senior leader, Darryl Morsell gave fans two separate scares as he left the game embracing his right shoulder both times. After the game, Mark Turgeon would say that Morsell was going to be ok and wanted to return to the floor, but with a double-digit lead it was unnecessary to risk any further injury.
Luckily, Maryland will have a week to rest before they play Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans next Sunday at home.