When Rutgers forward Tekia Mack shoveled a feed under the basket to guard Arella Guirantes for an uncontested layup with just seconds left in the opening quarter Sunday, the crowd of 4,573 celebrated a home team score for the first time in more than seven minutes.
The Maryland women’s basketball defense held the Scarlet Knights to just four points in the opening 10 minutes, and following a driving layup by guard Ciani Cryor three minutes into the game, Rutgers didn’t connect on any of its next eight shot attempts.
In a rematch between two of the top squads in the Big Ten, the No. 7 Terps got the better of No. 23 Rutgers this time around, 62-48, behind a suffocating defensive effort.
“Kaila [Charles] having size on the point guard I thought made a big difference,” coach Brenda Frese said. “Our defense is drastically improved since the last time we played. We’re really trending up.”
In a 73-65 New Year’s Eve defeat at the hands of the Scarlet Knights, Maryland’s defense was more a liability than a strong suit.
Although Rutgers only shot 39.1 percent from the field in that outing, the Terps struggled to defend the three-point line and box out on the glass. The Scarlet Knights converted 9-of-21 attempts from behind the arc — well above their average of 5.1 threes per game.
When they did miss, the Scarlet Knights managed to prolong possession by grabbing 19 offensive rebounds. At the contest’s conclusion, Maryland had 17 fewer shot attempts.
This time around, however, Rutgers went just 2-for-16 from deep and was outrebounded, 35-24.
The Terps employed a full-court press on Sunday, and it was effective in taking the Scarlet Knights out of their comfort zone. The home squad had 19 turnovers, after committing 13 turnovers in the first matchup.
“The press really slowed them down and gave them less time on the shot clock, so they weren’t really able to set up their plays,” said Charles, who had 17 points and two steals. “We really focused in on having ball pressure.”
Cryor — who averages 8.9 points a game and holds a 1.25 assist-to-turnover ratio running the point — had two points, one assist and five turnovers in 24 minutes with Charles defending her.
“Kaila was sensational on Cryor,” Frese said. “That size, I thought, limited her vision.”
Entering the game, Rutgers maintained a reputation as the Big Ten’s strongest defense. The Scarlet Knights rank first in the conference in points allowed and opposing field goal percentage; Maryland is second in both regards.
Yet on Sunday, the Terps had the more stifling defensive front, and Rutgers did little to slow down Maryland’s offense, as the visitors shot an efficient 53 percent. By limiting Rutgers to 48 points, the Terps held an opponent below the 50-point threshold for the first time since Dec. 10 against Loyola.
And although Maryland’s triumph over the Scarlet Knights wasn’t an unequivocally perfect performance — the Terps still had 23 turnovers, including 10 in the final quarter alone — the defensive effort was more than enough to prove Maryland is still the top dog in the Big Ten.
With five regular-season games remaining, the Terps stand alone atop the conference in their quest for a fourth Big Ten title in five years.
“I think our attention to detail [was the difference],” Charles said. “The guards did a really good job [against Rutgers] of executing, and we just have to keep it up.”