PISCATAWAY, N.J. — In Sunday afternoon’s battle for Big Ten supremacy, the Maryland women’s basketball team not only maintained its hold on first place with a 62-48 win over Rutgers, the Terrapins exacted some revenge.
Maryland came out playing as if it had been wronged by the Scarlet Knights, and in a way, it had. On New Year’s Eve, Rutgers handed the then-No. 4 Terps their only home loss this season and just their fourth Big Ten loss at home since they joined the conference in 2014.
The No. 10 Terps (22-2, 11-2) haven’t been back in the poll’s top five since, but Sunday’s drubbing sent a message. Maryland returned the favor as it handed No. 20 Rutgers (17-6, 9-3) a loss at home for the first time this season, and it did so with muscle.
“It just speaks volumes to the growth of our team since we last played them,” Coach Brenda Frese said. “There’s kind of defining moments in seasons, and for us, I just love the response that we’ve had where twice we’ve had to be taught a lesson of where we need to be, and the response out of our vets and the leadership that we have from this team is growing.”
On Sunday, Maryland fixed what ailed it during the teams’ first meeting. The Terps, who have won seven in a row, were passive and lethargic on the glass the first time around; on Sunday, they better used their height advantage and outrebounded Rutgers 35-24. The Scarlet Knights’ post players struggled on both ends all game.
“Those big people were too much for us,” Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer said.
That energy the Terps showed while rebounding lasted well after their lead eclipsed 20 points toward the end of the third quarter. One of the Terps’ bigger celebrations of the afternoon came after Brianna Fraser, who was wide open, took a few dribbles to drain the clock before nailing a jumper at the buzzer. Her shot put the Terps up 53-34 after three quarters, but she was engulfed by teammates and awarded a chest bump from Maryland’s trainer as if it had been a game-winner.
The game actually was decided well before halftime. The Terps outscored the Scarlet Knights 18-4 in the first quarter thanks to an aggressive three-quarter-court press and tight defense in the lane. Rutgers shot 2 for 12 and looked rattled as Maryland ran time off the shot clock and poked the ball away for four steals. After the Terps, who led 34-21 at halftime, opened the third quarter with a Kaila Charles jumper, they led by at least 14 points the rest of the way.
“They were much better, tighter defensively,” Stringer said. “There were times when they would double, we would drive, and they did a nice job of stopping the penetration . . . and that’s what caused us to turn the ball over instead of being able to see it, keep the ball, back it out and continue to move it. We needed to control the game better; we didn’t. We blew the first quarter, and that’s the best way to say it. . . . Obviously, Maryland showed up big time.”
All of that gave Rutgers its second Big Ten loss in a row, following a 60-46 defeat a week earlier at Minnesota. Arella Guirantes led the Scarlet Knights with 20 points off the bench; their leading scorer, Stasha Carey, had 15 points, 13 of which came in the second half.
Maryland held three Rutgers starters scoreless and a fourth, Ciani Cryor, to two points. Charles said the difference between Maryland’s defense this game and when the teams met previously came down to attention to detail.
“We really focused in on having ball pressure, being there, getting over the screens, and I think the guards today did a really good job of executing,” she said.
The junior led Maryland with 17 points, and Stephanie Jones had 12. Blair Watson added nine points, including two three-pointers, and a team-high eight rebounds.
The Terps return home to face Nebraska on Thursday before visiting another Big Ten heavyweight, No. 16 Iowa (19-5, 10-3), on Sunday. The Hawkeyes’ 78-52 win at Ohio State on Sunday kept them just a game behind the Terps.
“I love that we’re in control, just getting better and controlling what we can control,” Frese said. “When we play like this, great things are in store for us. But there are no easy games remaining.”