Maryland was coming off of its first Big Ten win of the season, a long, late contest at Northwestern in double overtime Wednesday. Rutgers, meanwhile, hadn’t won a game on the road all season, losing five times by an average of 14.2 points.
That changed Saturday in College Park, when Scarlet Knights forward Ron Harper Jr. started stuntin’ like his daddy on the Terrapins.
“He got it going today, and we couldn’t slow him down.” said Maryland interim coach Danny Manning.
Harper scored a career-high 31 on a blistering 10-of-16 shooting and only missed one shot in the second half, leading Rutgers to a 70-59 comeback win after Maryland blew an 11-point halftime lead.
“We weren’t able to provide enough resistance to slow them down to give ourselves a chance to win a ball game that we played well enough in the first half to give ourselves a chance to win,” Manning said.
The Terrapins (9-8, 1-5 Big Ten) played an uncharacteristically-strong first half and took a 38-27 lead into halftime. They blew it with bad passes and lackadaisical ball control after the break, mostly due to a more-aggressive Scarlet Knights defense that held Maryland to 25 percent shooting in the second half. The Terrapins only made seven shots from the field in the second session and went the final 3:32 without a field goal.
“We had some opportunities to score the ball, we just didn’t make shots,” Manning said.
Harper started 1-of-4 from the field, but finished 9-of-12 and scored 20 in the second half. Guard Paul Mulcahy also helped the comeback, with 11 of his 15 points coming in the second half for Rutgers (10-6, 4-2).
Harper credited his teammates for the quality of open looks that he had throughout.
“I don’t need to hunt shots, I know that these guys are going to find me in the right spots,” Harper said. “They do it night in and night out.”
Eric Ayala led Maryland with 13 points, nine of those coming on his three treys. He was one of three Terrapins in double figures, along with Donta Scott (12) and Hakim Hart (10).
Freshman center Julian Reese made his first start as a Terrapin, scoring 9 points and grabbing 7 rebounds. It was a lineup switch for Manning from Georgetown transfer Qudus Wahab, who has only scored 12 points in his last four games.
“Julian’s been practicing well. It was just a different look for us,” Manning said. “He came out and did some things really well for us.”
Ayala picked up where he left off after Wednesday’s double-overtime win at Northwestern, scoring 8 points in the first five minutes. That pushed Maryland out to a 13-4 lead.
But Rutgers then rattled off an 8-0 run, and back-to-back threes by forward Aundre Hyatt pulled the Scarlet Knights even at 14. Maryland answered soon after with a 10-0 run of their own in a matter of 1:09, helped by 5 points from Scott, to take a 30-21 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the first half. They’d extend that margin to 11 into the break, 38-27.
Rutgers committed 11 first-half turnovers, but clamped down and only gave the ball away five times in the second. The Scarlet Knights turned that around on Maryland, forcing nine second-half turnovers after the Terrapins only had five in the first 20 minutes.
“I thought we had really good active hands defensively, created some deflections that gave us a chance to get out in transition,” Manning said of Maryland’s first half.
“Second half, we didn’t create as much as we would like.”
That lack of creativity helped Mulcahy get into a rhythm. The guard scored 8 of the Scarlet Knights’ first 12 points of the second half to cut Maryland’s lead to 3, 42-39.
Rutgers continued to step on the gas. Harper hit back-to-back threes, keyed by a Maryland turnover and blocked shot, to complete a 10-0 run of their own. The Scarlet Knights outscored the Terrapins 22-7 to start the half and take a 49-45 lead. Four of the next six made Rutgers shots were threes, and Harper finished the Terrapins by scoring his team’s final 8 points.
It was a gutting way for Maryland to finish, especially with the opportunity to put together back-to-back wins in the Big Ten amid a looming schedule that features three ranked opponents in the next six games.
“The Big Ten is tough,” Ayala said. “No game is going to be easy, and we just have to go out and compete every night.”
Ayala said he told his teammates to not be defeated by the loss and to go back and watch what happened in the second half to see what they can do better.
“We had a long afternoon today.”