COLLEGE PARK, Md. – On a night when so little went right for them, the Terrapins that had zipped to such a gaudy record and lofty national status through the early season, showed up just in time.
Leading by one point, Melo Trimble drove baseline, found an open Dez Wells and Wells swung the ball out of the corner to a more open Jared Nickens. Unlike so many times before for the Terps, this time the ball went in. With just over two minutes remaining, the 14th-ranked Terrapins would go up four, and hang on for a 73-65 victory over a Rutgers team looking for a second upset of a Top 15 team in the last four days.
“We weren’t ready,” said Trimble of Maryland (16-2, 4-1) falling behind at the start of both halves. “We were lackadaisical in warm-ups, we didn’t even break a sweat. I knew coming back on the floor after we went to the locker room (before the tip-off).”
So what happened?
“Once (Coach Mark) Turgeon yelled at us, we picked it up and got it going,” said Trimble.
But what about the second half and Rutgers (10-8, 2-3) dashing out on an 11-0 run? “He yelled at us again,” said Trimble.
In the end, a loud crowd of 12,419 fans at Xfinity Center had something to yell about, Maryland winning for the ninth time in the last 10 games and setting the stage for a first-place showdown with Michigan State Saturday at 4 p.m., in Xfinity.
The Terrapins will likely need to play better than they did on this night, clanking 34.4 percent from the field, their worst effort since Dec. 30 – ulp – at Michigan State (33.3 percent) in a 68-66 double overtime win. Against Rutgers, fresh off that upset of No. 4 Wisconsin on Sunday, the Terrapins spent much of the second half like the mythical Sisyphus pushing the stone or in this case, the brick, up the hill.
The numbers were somewhat frightening and put the Terrapins on upset alert. Maryland hit just 8-of-33 second half shots, only 3-of-11 from 3-point range.
On the night, Wells was 4-of-15 for a team-high 17 points; Jake Layman was 3-of-12 for 12 points, and Trimble was 3-of-9 for 11 points.
“It was just not making shots,” said Layman. “We got some open threes, especially me. We just didn’t knock them down.”
It was Nickens who stepped up. The lanky freshman hit 4-of-7 shots, all behind the arc, and finished with 12 points, his first double-figure effort in six games. “We got a lot of open shots and when the ball swung my way I just had confidence it was going in,” Nickens said. “We just spread the floor and Melo recognizes (when you’re open), and Dez does, too.”
Scarlet Knights coach Eddie Jordan said about the same thing. “(Maryland) spreads you out with 3-point shooters from every position, it seems like. Then they go to the offensive glass.”
But getting that creaky offense going was just part of the problem. Rutgers shot better than 45 percent (45.5) for just the fourth time this season, and they were often uncanny from 3-point range. They cooled off late but still finished 7-of-17 (41.2 percent).
Maryland had a commanding 46-33 edge on the boards and once the Terrapins started getting defensive stops, everything came a little easier. Of course, those stops didn’t come regularly until the game’s final five minutes or so.
“The team just decided they were going to guard better and once they decided to do that, we were able to come out with a victory,” said Turgeon.
The Terrapins trailed 57-51 with 7:25 remaining in that frustrating second half. And that’s about the time Maryland got into the bonus. Wells, struggling from the field, got fouled and hit two free throws. Then Layman, in a similar circumstance, did the same thing. His two free throws at 7:09 made it 57-55.
Mighty-might Myles Mack, on his way to 19 points, hit a 15-footer but Nickens got a 3-pointer after Wells kicked it out from the post. When Wells got it inside again, at 5:10, he was fouled and his two free throws put the Terrapins back ahead 60-59, for the first time since the first three minutes of the half.
Wells then turned in a big play, picking the generously-listed-at-5-10 Mack’s pocket and scoring in transition in traffic to put Maryland up by three.
Rutgers’ Greg Lewis tipped in a shot and Kadeem Jack, who had nine points and seven rebounds, got a steal and hit one of two free throws to tie the game 62-62 with 3:52 left.
Layman missed a 3-pointer but got a steal, and Evan Smotrycz ended up canning two free throws to put Maryland in front for good at 2:52. The Terrapins clamped down defensively in the closing minutes – finally – allowing just two Rutgers field goals the last 6:38. The Scarlet Knights missed eight of their last 10 shots and had some trouble at the free throw line, too, hitting just 8-of-16 for the game.
Maryland was a stellar 20-for-28, but missed out on a bigger victory by missing three of their last four. “I think we have developed a mindset that if we aren’t making shots, we are going to have to get to the rim and defend,” said Layman.
Nickens got his dagger three, and Maryland did enough at the free throw line, thanks to that defense, to gut out a tough home victory.
“Jared can do that and our guys want him to shoot it,” said Turgeon.
Turgeon, who laid into the team at halftime and during a couple of timeouts, ended up pleased. “For us to shoot 8-for-33 in the second half (from the field) and for them to play as well as they did for the first 10 to 12 minutes in the second half, and for us to find a way to win, is a real credit to our guys.”
So what did Turgeon tell the team? Trimble, as per usual, has the dish. “(He said) basically we were playing soft and we weren’t believing in ourselves and we weren’t playing because we had a number (ranking) in front of our name. We weren’t playing Maryland basketball.”
That message was espoused again early in the second half. In a repeat of the first half, the Terrapins missed their first 11 shots and 13 of their first 15 to start the final 20 minutes. The Scarlet Knights ran off 11 straight points. They took the lead at 17:26 on a 10-foot drive by Bishop Daniels, and then extended their advantage to 42-38, when Lewis scored inside.
Maryland finally answered when Damonte Dodd stuffed in Layman’s miss at 16:55. But Mack canned a three, which Trimble answered to make it 45-43 at 16:05.
Jack got back-to-back hoops and the Knights were up 49-43 with 14:04 to play.
After a timeout, Layman got an old-fashioned three-point play on a drive, and then Smotrcyz scored on a drive and had another shot at a three-point play. His free throw missed, and then a hustling Wells corralled the rebound but also missed. Ditto Layman. Trimble even got off a three and it missed on the extended possession emblematic of Maryland’s marksmanship miscuses.
The Terrapins were back within 49-48, though after Smotrycz’ basket, and with a smaller lineup, were putting even more pressure on the Rutgers defense. “Most of the time, all the players on the floor can shoot,” said Trimble of his teammates. “Most of the time, someone will draw a double team and then our passers can create a play, and that’s what happened tonight. Whoever I passed to made a play.”
Trimble had four assists but Wells and Layman each had three. Wells also had eight rebounds, his most since coming back from his broken wrist. Layman, with a career-high 13 rebounds, recorded his third double-double in the last seven games.
Smotrycz finished with seven points, six rebounds and two assists, and Richaud Pack came off the bench to chip in six points. Dodd finished with three points and seven rebounds. Jon Graham gave the team a lift defensively and had two points, two rebounds and a blocked shot.
Turgeon gave someone else credit, too. “I thought our crowd was unbelievable. For a Wednesday, cold night, our crowd was great. It got really loud in there when we made a couple of runs. I really thought it was the difference in the game. It gave us energy on defense and affected them a little on offense. That’s what Maryland is about. Sometimes the crowd is going to will you to victory.”
Maryland had it’s biggest lead of the first at the half thanks to a Trimble drive and trip to the free throw line at 1.8 seconds. Trimble hit both shots to make it 38-31, good news for a Maryland team that didn’t defend or shoot like they were capable.
In fact, Maryland allowed the normally swish-challenged Scarlet Knights to hit 46.2 percent (12-of-26) in the first stanza, Rutgers picking up where the team left off Sunday in the 67-62 upset of Wisconsin.
“We didn’t guard anyone in the first half,” said Layman.
The Terrapins were 13 of 28 (46.4 percent) but closed strong. Trailing 22-20 at 7:22 after a Mike Williams’ teardrop, Maryland went on an 8-1 spree to go up 28-23 at 3:36 on Nickens’ baseline three. A Layman three at 5:10 started the run and gave Maryland the lead, and then Layman had a driving dunk.
Maryland was 8-of-17 behind the arc in the first half, and Nickens hit another and Pack had one, too. But Rutgers was 5-of-8 from deep, Daniels and Mack each canning triples in the final 1:40.
The Terrapins missed their first five shots and turned it over a couple of times and Rutgers – a team that doesn’t typically shoot well – shot out to an 8-0 lead in the first two minutes and 52 seconds.
And at the point, a disgusted Turgeon called timeout and properly refocused his players. Trimble certainly got the message. Out of the timeout, he drove straight to the basket to put the Terrapins on the board at the 16:44 mark. He followed up with a 3-pointer, and when Wells knocked down a triple, the game was tied, 8-8, at 15:55. A loose ball turned into a Michal Cekovsky dunk and Maryland had its first lead, 10-8, at 14:31, completing a 10-0 run.
The Knights went back ahead when Mack hit a jumper to make it 14-12, at 10:01, and the lead would change hands five times with three ties over the next five minutes.
Terps Gut Out Win over Rutgers
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