PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Many of the Maryland Terrapins had played in the most raucous environment of their careers three days earlier when the Caitlin Clark show sold out Xfinity Center for the first time since 2016. Every player who stepped onto the floor could feel the energy in the building, and the Terps mostly matched it during an eight-point loss to No. 2 Iowa, a Big Ten power.
Tuesday night was much different: a road game against the conference’s last-place team in front of a sparse crowd. Could the Terps possibly play with the same sense of urgency?
The early answer was no, but Maryland warmed up after a slow first half to secure a 67-59 victory that ended a four-game skid.
“I thought tonight it was a little fatigue-based [after] the last game,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. “. . . Sluggish, slow start, but I thought we responded coming out, especially in the third quarter. Then I thought we got tired in the fourth. I thought the mental mistakes and the turnovers really impacted us. Luckily, we had a cushion.”
Inconsistency has plagued the Terps (13-10, 5-7) all season, and Tuesday was just another example. They were clearly the better team against the Scarlet Knights (7-18, 1-11), who had just managed their first Big Ten win of the season Saturday at Nebraska.
The Maryland defense was stout all night, but the Terps shot just 35.0 percent from the field in the first half. Closing strong at the end of each quarter helped Maryland lead 37-28 at halftime. The Terps trailed 11-8 in the first quarter but closed on an 8-0 run. They led by just four before going into halftime on a 5-0 surge. No one shot particularly well in the first half, but Maryland outrebounded Rutgers by 10, added nine second-chance points and had five fewer turnovers.
“We settled for too many threes in the first half — especially that second quarter,” Frese said. “And then I thought our legs were tired. When you see us missing free throws and layups, those are uncharacteristic of us. I think those were more fatigue-based than anything. So we’re happy to get it — a road win.”
To start the third quarter, Frese got the type of urgency she was looking for in the first half. Her players came out aggressive and with a little more hop in their step and produced a 7-0 run, capped by a Bri McDaniel touchdown pass for a Shyanne Sellers layup that forced Rutgers into a quick timeout trailing 44-28.
“You’re not playing on your home court,” Sellers said. “You don’t always have the fans cheering for you. So we have to bring our own energy. We always say we’ve got to be 10 points better on the road. We were that for a while, and then we kind of fell out of that. But I’m just proud of this group for pushing it through and not giving up like we did earlier in the year.”
Maryland’s shooting actually got worse in the second half, but for the game it outrebounded Rutgers 48-37, including 25-12 on the offensive glass, and won the turnover battle. That doomed the home team, but Rutgers made it interesting with a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter that cut its deficit to three. McDaniel took over in the final moments to keep Rutgers at bay.
“It just shows that we’re getting better and we’re connected and we’re a great team,” Jakia Brown-Turner said of closing out the victory. “Just finishing off these wins, just playing hard, doing the little things is what shows.”
Despite playing on a tender left knee and with a bulky brace, Sellers posted 16 points and four assists. Brown-Turner continued her strong play with 11 points and 10 rebounds. McDaniel finished with 14 points.
Destiny Adams scored a game-high 22 for Rutgers.
“They were pretty tough in the paint,” Rutgers Coach Coquese Washington said. “They were tough on the glass. They were aggressive drawing fouls, driving to the basket and being aggressive … especially late in the game.”
Here’s what else to know about Maryland’s win:
The Terps desperately needed a victory after road losses to Michigan and Penn State and defeats at home to then-No. 10 Indiana and then-No. 3 Iowa. The latest ESPN bracket projection has Maryland among the first four teams on the outside looking in, so the Terps need to stack up wins.
This upcoming stretch serves up games at Illinois and home matchups with Penn State and the Scarlet Knights — all winnable. The Terps close the regular season at No. 5 Ohio State, at home vs. Wisconsin and at No. 14 Indiana.
Back in the starting five
Faith Masonius was in the starting lineup for the first time since Dec. 20 vs. James Madison. The fifth-year player started the season’s first four games before Frese moved her to a reserve role. Allie Kubek or Lavender Briggs typically fills out the final starting spot, but Masonius got the nod vs. the Scarlet Knights and had six points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes.
Kubek had five points and nine rebounds in 12 minutes, and Briggs had four points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes.
“Moving forward, we’re going to go with our best matchup,” Frese said. “Last game it was [Briggs]. This game is Faith. … We’re going to go with whatever makes the most sense on the scout.”
Maryland will spend Super Bowl Sunday in Champaign, Ill., for a 3 p.m. matchup with the Fighting Illini.