The No. 9-ranked Lady Terrapins (21-4, 8-2 ACC) wore broad smiles after yesterday’s nonconference 67-47 victory versus the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (14-10, 5-6 Big East).
Following the physical play from their last match versus the Virginia Cavaliers, Maryland senior Marissa Coleman was knocked to the floor several times. Her still bandaged knees tell the story of the kind of battle it was for the fearless Terrapin group. Fellow senior Kristi Toliver got smacked in the face on a drive into the lane.
This meeting held significance for both teams. Maryland wanted to improve their winning streak to five games, while Rutgers tried to mirror their performance in last year’s game held in New Jersey.
Despite their efforts, Rutgers failed to defeat Coach Brenda Frese's team because she always has her girls prepared for a war.
“They’re an aggressive team, and they really pride themselves on the defensive end,” Coleman said. “So coming into this game, the coaching staff said whenever we drive to the lane just expect contact.”
Coleman apparently thrives on these types of games. She finished with a game-high 22 points, added 10 rebounds, and notched her fifth double-double of the season.
Rutgers (14-10) is in a big rut.
The Scarlet Knights were ranked third in the preseason polls, but fell out of national recognition in late January.
Heading into Sunday’s matinee game at the Comcast Center, Rutgers had lost four of their last seven games. They were tied for seventh in the Big East.
The Rutgers women could not find their scoring touch.
Maryland is known for their explosive offense, not their smothering defense. Yet only a three-pointer at the buzzer by Rutgers senior Heather Zurich (11 points) prevented the team’s lowest point total of the season.
They missed 11 of their first 12 shots of the game, and finished with a paltry (24.7) percentage. Of the 73 field goals attempts made, only 18 went through the net.
Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer thought Maryland was aggressive defensively, and her players never adjusted to their intensity.
“I thought Maryland played better defense than I have seen them play. I think they enjoyed playing defense today,” Stringer said. “Obviously the ball wasn’t going in the basket, but we had opportunities. I thought we stood around a little too much, and they put pressure on us as a group.”
Epiphanny Prince, Rutgers' leading scorer, kept the team from being laughed out of College Park. She scored 19 points on 7-of-29 field goal attempts. On the season, Prince is averaging 20.5 points per game.
Maryland deserves a pat on the back for holding Rutgers' second-leading scorer of the season, Brittany Ray (10.7 points per game), to zero points. The 5'9" Prince had a hand in her face most of the game, which made her miss several layups that would usually go in the basket.
Credit Maryland’s Marah Strickland for frustrating the Rutgers' lethal weapon beautifully. Strickland forced Prince to move awkwardly towards the lane, and she struggled to get many outside shot opportunities.
“I’ve watched a lot of their games, and [Prince] usually doesn’t shoot figures like that, so I credit our defense, and the fact that she had to work,” Frese said. “Every shot she took I thought was a really difficult shot.”
Maryland was not handed the game outright. They worked the ball inside and nailed their opportunities from the free throw line.
The Lady Terrapins connected on 23 of 28 free throw attempts, 14 of which were courtesy of Marissa Coleman.
Coleman’s heart goes into every play. She takes advantage of what comes to her and lets the game itself play out naturally. Of course, this is an experienced four-year player I am talking about. That is expected, but it is wonderful to see it come to fruition.
In their previous three games their shooting percentage was 52 percent. Against Rutgers, it was more of a grind-it-out style executed by the offense.
Maryland was held to six fast break points, and finished the game shooting 40 percent from the field.
Kristi Toliver loves to get physical too.
“We’re definitely a team that likes to go up and down, and they need to play slow in order for them to win games,” Toliver said. “We tried to take advantage of whatever opportunities we could and be aggressive going to the basket. We went to the free throw line a ton, just being aggressive.”
Rutgers got as close as 16-14, when Prince scored eight points in a row. Then on Maryland’s next two possessions, Toliver cruised past Prince for an easy layup, and Coleman fed Dee Liles for a quick bucket to stretch the lead to six points.
The Scarlet Knights never put up a challenge after that offensive exchange.
Senior Maryland guard S’ade Wiley-Gatewood was not with the team because of illness. Guard Marah Strickland started in her place.
Maryland’s next game is at Georgia Tech on Thursday, Feb 19.
Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer was named a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame on Friday the 13th.