Piscataway, NJ (SportsNetwork.com) - Clinging to the possibility of earning a share of the Big Ten Conference regular-season title, the 10th-ranked Maryland Terrapins have made the trek to New Jersey to tangle with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Tuesday night.
At 24-5 overall and 12-4 in conference, Maryland has made a huge impression in its first season as a member of the Big Ten. The Terrapins, who are two games behind first-place Wisconsin with two to play and find themselves ranked in the top-10 for the first time since 2003, have won their last five decisions, with the most recent being a 66-56 final at home versus Michigan on Saturday. Maryland is 4-4 in true road games in 2014-15, recently snapping a three-game road losing streak with a 76-73 win at Penn State on Valentine's Day.
As for Rutgers, the other new member of the Big Ten, its inaugural run has been a disaster. The Scarlet Knights enter this fray nine games under .500 (10-19), and they've won only two of their 16 league bouts. RU has lost its last 12 games, the most recent being a 92-85 setback at Purdue last Thursday, and the team is just 6-9 at home, having lost five in a row there following its monumental upset of Wisconsin back on Jan. 11 (67-62).
These two teams met in College Park on Jan. 14, with Maryland prevailing in a 73-65 final. Dez Wells scored 17 points to lead four Terrapins in double figures, while the Scarlet Knights got 17 as well from Myles Mack. Rutgers suffered crippling deficits both in rebounding (46-33) and points at the foul line (20-8).
As a result of that meeting, the first between the teams since 1991, Maryland took a 4-3 lead in the all-time series.
Melo Trimble scored 19 points and dished out five assists, and the team played very good defense in besting Michigan over the weekend by 10 points. Wells added 13 points and six rebounds, and Jake Layman chipped in 10 points for the Terps, who knocked down 11 3-pointers in the game, went 13-of-15 at the foul line, and claimed a 21-13 edge in bench points. The Wolverines were limited to 36.5 percent field goal efficiency, which included a dismal 5-of-21 showing from long distance.
Despite its favorable record and still having a shot at earning a share of the Big Ten crown, Maryland ranks in the lower half of the conference pack in both scoring offense (70.2 ppg) and scoring defense (63.6 ppg). The Terrapins boast three double-digit scorers in Trimble (16.2 ppg, 3.1 apg), Wells (15.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Layman (13.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg), with a huge drop-off from there as their closest teammate (Richaud Pack) nets only 6.4 ppg. Maryland is the second-best free-throw shooting team in the league (.752) and is on the plus- side of the ledger in rebounding margin (+1.9).
Kadeem Jack poured in 18 points, Bishop Daniels had 17 and three others finished in double figures as well, but even all that wasn't enough to push Rutgers past Purdue last Thursday. Mack and D.J. Foreman added 15 points apiece, and Mike Williams 10 for the Scarlet Knights, who shot just 41.9 percent from the floor, missing the mark on 11 of their 16 3-point tries along the way. They did manage a 28-of-34 effort at the free-throw line. Conversely, the Boilermakers drained 7-of-15 long-range launches as part of their 55.4 percent overall shooting effort, and they converted 23-of-36 attempts at the charity stripe.
For the season, Rutgers is putting up mere 59 ppg to rank last in the Big Ten, while its effort at the defensive end hasn't been much better, with foes netting 66.6 ppg, which has it tied with Minnesota for 12th place. Not surprisingly, the Knights are the worst shooting team in the league (.388), while sitting 13th both from beyond the arc (.295) and at the stripe (.655). Mack and Jack are the only two double-digit scorers on the roster, but their respective averages of 13.8 and 12.8 ppg probably don't cause many opposing coaches to lie awake at night stressing over a way to defend them.