On the surface, the Maryland men’s basketball team’s 2019-20 season looks to be off to a smooth start. The No. 7-ranked Terps are 2-0 with wins of 24 and 18 points. Their depth has been on full display, with 10 players playing at least 12 minutes and 11 getting on the scoreboard.
But there’s been some turbulence as the season takes off, and it’s come from familiar places.
Maryland hasn’t come out of the gate strong in either of its first two contests. Against Holy Cross Nov. 5, the Terps were down, 21-19, after eight minutes of play before going on a run and never surrendering the lead. Maryland started even slower against Rhode Island, as a parade of turnovers led to the Terps trailing, 24-12, with 12 minutes having elapsed. They had 12 turnovers at that point, but committed just five the rest of the way en route to a 73-55 win.
“They were ready to go and we weren’t,” head coach Mark Turgeon said following the Rhode Island game. “They punched us in the face. Down 24-12, we didn’t have a lot going. Turning over the ball, throwing the ball at the guys in the stands instead of our teammates.”
Slow starts were an incredibly common theme last season. At one point, the Terps had a five-game streak of trailing after at least five minutes of play before coming back to win each time. They trailed by double digits in the first half of all three postseason games. Maryland made a habit of playing its way back into these games, so the early holes last week were hardly daunting to the Terps’ returning players.
“We’ve been through [slow starts] before,” sophomore guard Eric Ayala said. “Last year, we faced adversity. I think our sophomore group having that experience helped us out a lot. We see that we’re down a little bit and being able to persevere and fight through.”
The Terps have also struggled with their long-range shooting early on. They connected on just five of their 27 attempts against Holy Cross, and after a 5-for-10 first half against Rhode Island, Maryland went 1-for-9 in the second half to finish 6-for-19. That’s a total conversion rate of 23.9 percent. It’s still a small sample, though — Maryland shot 16.2 percent from deep in its first two games last season and finished at 34.9 percent for the year.
Perhaps the slowest individual start has come from sophomore wing Aaron Wiggins, who’s 2-for-11 on threes (including 0-for-6 against Holy Cross) after shooting 41.3 percent as a freshman. Wiggins impressed against Rhode Island with 13 points and a career-high 13 rebounds, but his team knows it needs him to remain confident in his shot.
“Coming off a game like that, going 0-for-6, of course you think about it,” Wiggins said, “but my coaches believe in me, my teammates believe in me so once I saw that first shot go in of course the goal opens up a little bit for me and your confidence comes back and you stay locked in.”
There’s been more good than bad, of course. Sophomore forward Jalen Smith has started hot, with early averages of 17.5 points and 11 rebounds per game. Guards Anthony Cowan Jr. and Eric Ayala have been steady, each averaging double-figure scoring. And freshman forward Donta Scott is already a trusted contributor — his 32 minutes are sixth-most on the team.
The Terps have enough firepower to win with less than their best right now, but it’s easy to wonder what they’d look like firing on all cylinders.
Maryland returns to action Nov. 16 against Oakland, then hosts Fairfield and George Mason next week. All of these foes are outside KenPom’s top 150, so the Terps should have some margin for error as they work out the bugs and find their go-to plays and lineups. The early areas of struggle are familiar ones; now it’s time to steady the ship.
“We’re a work in progress,” Turgeon said after Rhode Island. “We couldn’t score around the basket with our post-up play, which we need to do. We have to have more of a balance, like posting the ball. We’re dribbling too much right now. We have work to do. We did a lot of nice things.
“Am I concerned? Not really. It’s Nov. 9. We’ll get a lot better.”
THE DOTTED LINE: Maryland officially signed three-star Class of 2020 combo guard Marcus Dockery Nov. 13. The Washington, D.C., native committed to the Terps in October 2018 and sent in his National Letter of Intent on the first day of the early signing period. Dockery is the Terps’ only commitment in the 2020 class, but Maryland is seeking to add another blue-chip point guard with Cowan graduating and the possibility of NBA Draft departures in the spring.
HUERTER HURTING: Kevin Huerter suffered a left shoulder injury in a Nov. 12 victory against the Denver Nuggets, and while MRI results were negative, the second-year shooting guard will miss the Hawks’ Nov. 14 game against the San Antonio Spurs. Huerter missed the preseason with a knee injury and started the regular season slowly, but was slowly finding a rhythm — he was 3-for-3 from long range and had 11 points before leaving the Denver game. For the year, he’s averaging 9.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 22.5 minutes per contest.
SCOREBOARD STRANGENESS: It’s rare to see a college’s football and basketball teams play on the same day — Nov. 16 was Maryland’s only such day in 2019 and first since 2017. It’s even rarer for a football team to allow more points than the basketball team. But Ohio State football dropped 73 points on the Terps, while Rhode Island basketball managed just 55.
It’s the first time Maryland has pulled this off since … well, 2017!. On Nov. 25 of that year, Maryland football lost, 66-3, to Penn State while the basketball team beat New Mexico, 80-65. This means the Terps have pulled this off twice in a row.
And that’s why they call it a basketball school.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox