No. 9 Maryland, resurgent Rutgers set for Big Ten tilt
(AP Photo/Terrance Williams)
No one ever said winning a Big Ten basketball title was easy.
For No. 9 Maryland, the Terrapins have a second chance to clinch at least a tie for the regular season crown, but they'll have to do it Tuesday on arguably one of the toughest courts in the country for a visitor to win -- Rutgers Athletic Center.
The Scarlet Knights (18-11, 9-9) have lost just one game at home this season, though they've lost three in a row overall and six of their last eight.
But this will be Senior Night in Piscataway, N.J., and the RAC will be packed with fans to cheer the squad still enjoying its first winning season in 14 years, and hoping for its first NCAA Tournament bid in 29 seasons.
"I'm hopeful that Rutgers nation will be loud and that the place is rocking 'cause it has been all year long," said coach Steve Pikiell, who recently signed an extension though the 2025-26 season. "You hope the emotions don't get too crazy because (the players) have to play."
Perhaps such emotions got in the way Saturday for Maryland (23-6, 13-5), which had ESPN's College GameDay, the chance to sew up at least a Big Ten title tie and a sellout crowd in the house Saturday but ran into Michigan State's now patented late-season buzz saw in a 78-66 win for the Spartans, the Terrapins' first home loss of the season.
The Terrapins' tumble tightened the Big Ten race heading into the final week and puts pressure on the Terps to quickly turn things around after losing two of their last three and coming back from 16 points down at Minnesota to win the other one.
"(Michigan State) was really good, that's all I can say, they were really, really good," said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. "They were better than us tonight. We need to keep that same approach. We're down, but we're not gonna get too down. We're not going to get too low. We got two games left. We're still in first place. We'll see what happens."
Maryland beat Rutgers 56-51 on Feb. 4 in College Park, the usual suspects leading the way. Senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr., who has historically killed Rutgers, had 17 points and center Jalen Smith had 14 points and 15 rebounds. The Terrapins overcame a five-point halftime deficit with a 14-4 run and then hung on as Akwasi Yeboah led defense-minded Rutgers with 13 points. Maryland's 56 points was the team's lowest output in the last 12 games, including the Terrapins' nine-game winning streak.
Yeboah and Shaq Carter are the only seniors for the Knights, who have a young nucleus built around sophomores Ron Harper Jr., Myles Johnson and Montez Mathis and juniors Geo Baker and Jacob Young.
The Scarlet Knights have had a long rest since falling 65-64 at Penn State last Wednesday, a game in which Rutgers at one time trailed by 21 points. This is the Knights' first home game since losing to Michigan 60-52 on Feb. 19, Rutgers' first loss in the 8,000-seat RAC, and a big chance for them to collect an impact win with an eye to the postseason.
Following Tuesday's tilt, both teams wrap up the regular season Saturday, with Maryland hosting Michigan and Rutgers on the road at Purdue.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 3, 2020