MINNEAPOLIS — Maryland men’s basketball labored to the end of its regular season, dropping eight of its last 10 contests en route to its worst finish in the Big Ten standings since joining the conference.

The Terps boasted one of the top defenses in the country despite their struggles, but gave up more than 80 points three times during that stretch. They dropped four games at home as their record continued to tumble. They finished the regular season 15-16, in danger of ending the year with a losing record for just the second time in the 21st century.

Wednesday provided a fresh start.

Maryland extended its season in Minneapolis with a victory in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament, jumping out to a quick start and maintaining a sizable lead in a 65-51 win over No. 13 seed Rutgers.

The Terps made three straight triples and got out to an 11-0 lead inside the opening three minutes. They never led by less than eight afterward.

“[A fast start] just relaxes us. You can just see it,” coach Kevin Willard said. “It just relaxes them and gives them a chance to understand, okay, we’re going to go play defense and get stops, and now we’re scoring. Psychologically, it’s just a big difference.”

Jamie Kaiser Jr. shoots a three-pointer during Maryland men’s basketball’s 65-51 win against Rutgers on March 13, 2024. (Jordan Budney/The Diamondback)

[Maryland men’s basketball’s Jahmir Young named to All-Big Ten first team]

Maryland will play No. 5 seed Wisconsin on Thursday in the second round of the tournament 25 minutes after Thursday’s 12 p.m. ET tipoff ends. Willard’s squad narrowly fell to the Badgers in Madison on Feb. 20, 74-70.

The No. 12-seeded Terps (16-16) inserted freshman Jamie Kaiser Jr. into the starting lineup for just the fourth time this season.

Wednesday marked the second time he started alongside Jahmir Young, DeShawn Harris-Smith, Donta Scott and Julian Reese. The first was a historic 57-40 loss at Villanova on Nov. 17, 2023, when the Terps scored their fewest points in a game since 1982.

Maryland started much better in Minneapolis.

The Terps went 6-for-8 from the field and 4-for-5 from behind the arc to start the game and took a commanding 17-3 lead less than five minutes into the contest.

Maryland slumped after a strong start and its lead eventually dwindled to single digits, but the Terps responded after a couple of Rutgers makes and went on another 10-0 run that restored a sizable advantage they’d never surrender.

“We opened up hitting shots early, just trying not to give them life. Just being able to bounce back, like coach said, was huge for us,” Young said. “We did a good job of staying in front and staying in control all game.”

[Maryland men’s basketball crumbles in second half, falls at Penn State, 85-69]

Maryland’s strong spurts and solid defense helped it take a 36-22 lead into the break. The Terps shot 44.4 percent from the field and 50 percent from deep in the opening half, while the Scarlet Knights (15-17) went 31.3 from the floor and 18.2 percent from distance.

Maryland men’s basketball’s bench celebrates during its 65-51 win against Rutgers on March 13, 2024. (Jordan Budney/The Diamondback)

Scott led Maryland with nine points and Kaiser scored eight while hitting a pair of threes in the first half. Scott finished Wednesday with a game-high 16 points while Kaiser went 3-for-6 from deep and added 11.

The Terps continued to extend their advantage in the second half. Julian Reese missed Maryland’s loss at Penn State on Sunday with an ankle injury, but helped Maryland balloon its lead as large as 26.

Reese finished Wednesday’s contest with 12 points, eight of which came in the second half, and grabbed six rebounds. He added three of Maryland’s 17 assists — their joint-second best mark of the year.

His return helped Maryland hold Rutgers to 51 points — the lowest score the Terps allowed since they topped the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway, 63-46, in February — as Willard’s squad earned a spot in the second round.

“The regular season ended not the way we wanted it to,” Scott said. “We got a whole new season, it’s time to gear up.”

Maryland men’s basketball takes the court for the Big Ten tournament in Minneapolis on March 13, 2024. (Jordan Budney/The Diamondback)