For much of the first half between Maryland and Rutgers Jan. 24, the Scarlet Knights displayed why, despite their now 1-7 record in conference play, they're much improved this season compared to the previous three years. A hard-working defensive squad that hits the boards hard, Rutgers found itself ahead, 25-22, after a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Corey Sanders with a 4:03 remaining in the first half.
That lead, however, was short lived for the Scarlet Knights. The Terps finished the half on a 12-4 run for a five-point halftime lead and stretched the lead out to as many as 16 points in the second half during a 67-55 Maryland victory. The Terps' surge at the end of the first half was fueled by freshman guard Kevin Huerter, who played 34 minutes on the night.
With Rutgers ahead, 27-26, Huerter sliced through the lane with an aggressive take to the hoop to give Maryland a one-point lead with 1:32 remaining in the half. A possession later, Huerter had the ball on the left side of the court and found an open Melo Trimble with a cross-court pass for a corner three, which Trimble drained.
And on Maryland's last possession of the first half, Huerter found senior forward L.G. Gill with another gorgeous cross-court pass for a corner three -- almost identical to Trimble's -- for a 34-29 halftime lead despite the Terps playing sluggishly for most of the half.
"It definitely was big," Huerter said. "We always talk about that in the huddles, that we always want to win the start of the game -- the first four minutes -- the last four minutes to end the half, the first four minutes to start the half and, obviously, the last four minutes to end the game. Those are stretches that we always kind of look forward to that, if we want to win the game, we need to win those."
Maryland (18-2 overall, 6-1 in the Big Ten) started the second half well, too. Huerter found fellow freshman Justin Jackson for a layup on the opening possession of the half, and Huerter pushed the Terps' lead to nine with a fast break bucket immediately thereafter. But after Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell called a timeout, the Scarlet Knights quickly cut Maryland's lead, 38-35.
"We've been getting off to some slow starts in the second half. But we need to hang around," Pikiell said. "When you're playing a really good team that's ranked and hasn't lost many games all season, you've got to really chop the game up a little bit and can't let them go on runs like that. [I called] a quick timeout, brought our guys in, then we responded after that. I thought we did a good job of settling down."
But the Terps, behind mostly their starting five of freshman guard Anthony Cowan, guard Trimble, Huerter, forward Jackson and senior forward Damonte Dodd, then took control of the contest with a 16-3 run during the next 5:22 to gain a 54-38 lead. Maryland made four 3-pointers during the 16-3 run -- one from Trimble, two from Huerter and one by junior guard Jaylen Brantley off the bench.
Though a lot of Terps were clicking while Maryland turned a three-point deficit in the first half into a 16-point lead in the second half, it was Huerter who stood out in particular. Huerter finished with 11 points, six assists and eight rebounds.
"I'm trying to get the ball in his hands more, and it's hard because you've got Melo who needs it, Anthony needs it. But I'm just trying to get the ball in his hands more," Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said. "We ran a couple plays that got the ball in his hands, and he's made good decisions.
"He was sharp today, and he's got great vision. And our guys are usually ready for it. We're going to keep trying to do that more as the season goes on -- just get the ball in his hands a bit more to make plays for other people."
More notes on Maryland's victory against Rutgers:
- The Terps' 18-2 start matches the 1998-99 squad for best record through the first 20 games of a season in Maryland history. Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and Laron Profit were on that Terps team, as was Steve Francis, who averaged 17 points, 4.5 assists and 4.5 boards per game during his only season in College Park, Md., before heading to the NBA.
"Steve Francis -- I don't really remember that year," joked Trimble, who was born in 1995.
- Trimble has played in every game since he stepped on campus -- 91 to be exact -- but his streak was in jeopardy against Rutgers due to an illness. Turgeon said he checked on Trimble throughout the game -- "I kept asking him and he kept saying he was fine" -- but didn't love that Trimble ended up playing 34 minutes.
As for the streak, Cal Ripken Jr. happened to be attendance, so perhaps it was destined to live on.
"I felt terrible [Jan. 23]. I felt a little better today," Trimble said. "When you get in the game, you don't feel sick anymore. So that's pretty much how I felt when I was out there.
"It just depended on how I felt this morning when I woke up. Once I woke up, I felt a lot better and we had shoot-around. I was able to do shoot-around. I just felt good, and I knew I could play."
- Junior forward Michal Cekovsky and sophomore guard Dion Wiley both returned from injuries to play four and two minutes, respectively. Cekovsky had missed the previous six games with a left ankle injury, and Wiley missed the previous four games while being slowed with a back issue. Jan. 24 was the only the second time all season the Terps have had a fully healthy lineup -- the other time was during a loss to Pittsburgh Nov. 29.
"[Cekovsky] hasn't practiced, and so he's kind of out of shape. But I thought he played with energy," Turgeon said. "I think he was happy. Feels good right now about himself. And Dion, really the last two days, has really improved. He wasn't great [last weekend], but he's really improved. So he felt good about himself, it was good to get him in. I think they'll be better when the next opportunity comes."
- The Scarlet Knights did some nice things on the offensive end -- they played big, grabbed 22 offensive rebounds and scored 32 points in the paint -- but went 10-of-24 from the free-throw line to cancel out a lot of the quality work they did inside. Further, their leading scorer, Sanders, scored two points on 0-of-8 shooting in the second half.
"We knew that [Sanders] was … trying to be very aggressive, so we wanted to put a lot of help on his side whenever he tried to go to the basket and just have someone protecting the rim," Trimble said. "Damonte was there a couple times, Ivan [Bender] and L.G. So just having those guys, those presences down there really deterred his shot, and I thought we did a pretty good job one-on-one with him."