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Rutgers squanders late-game opportunity in loss to No. 9 Maryland

The Rutgers men’s basketball team traveled to face Maryland on Tuesday night, losing 56-51. The Scarlet Knights (16-7, 7-5) had a chance to be the first team to defeat the No. 9 Terrapins (18-4, 8-3) at home this season after going into halftime ahead 25-20. After a back-and-forth second half, Rutgers could not keep up with Maryland’s late scoring push and ultimately dropped its second-straight game.

Graduate student forward Akwasi Yeboah led the Knights in scoring with 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the field. He also grabbed seven rebounds to go along with two steals, two blocks and one assist. 

Yeboah’s scoring output was vital for Rutgers at the start of the game. After a 14-6 opening run by the Terrapins, he made 3 consecutive three-point shots, igniting a 19-4 run to end the first half. The Knights also clamped down on defense, holding Maryland to zero-made field goals for the last 9:21 of the half. They also held the Terrapins to a 24.1 field goal percentage.

Rutgers’ defense remained on point at the start of the second half. It stretched Maryland's field goal drought to 11:41 before finally allowing a basket. After that, though, the momentum switched. The Terrapins went on a 12-2 run to give it a 34-29 lead.

The game remained close for the rest of the way, but the Knights faltered at both ends of the floor in the closing minutes. They got into foul trouble, allowing Maryland to shoot 7-of-9 from the free throw line to close out the game. 

On offense, sophomore guard Caleb McConnell and Yeboah both missed crunch-time shots at the end. The Terrapins' Jalen Smith blocked a McConnell layup that could have given Rutgers the lead.

"It's on me at the end of the game to make sure we get better looks," said head coach Steve Pikiell. "They made it hard. They have a big shot blocker in the paint. We just came up a little short today. These guys are young and we're playing quality teams."

On defense, the Knights had issues containing Maryland's Anthony Cowan Jr. (17 points). Smith and Darryl Morsell each scored 14 points, with Smith also grabbing a game-leading 15 rebounds. 

Despite the loss, several Rutgers players had productive individual performances. Sophomore guard Montez Mathis continued his consistent play with 10 points, seven rebounds and one steal. Sophomore guard Ron Harper Jr. also improved his performance after struggling against Michigan. He turned in 6 points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal and a career-high three blocks.

"I'm proud of our effort," Pikiell said. "That was a big time game and we stepped up and went blow-to-blow with a team that has NBA talent. We were just a few possessions short. They beat us at the foul line. That ended up being the difference."

While Big Ten road wins are difficult to come by for the whole conference, the Knights will soon have to translate good efforts into victories. With a 1-5 record away from the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), it puts even more strain on Rutgers to continue its perfection at home (15-0).

The Knights play Northwestern at the RAC on Sunday in a must-win game. If it wishes to continue its NCAA Tournament run, Rutgers simply cannot lose to the worst team in the conference at home.

"It was a great college basketball game," Pikiell said. "Maryland is really good. We played well. We played hard."

For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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