Maryland men’s basketball is back in the win column to start the 2020-21 season, picking up an 85-67 victory against Old Dominion on opening day Nov. 25.
The new-look Terps, who suffered a wave of departures this offseason and had four new faces make their team debuts in this game, shook off an understandably shaky start and pulled away from the Monarchs late in the first half before cruising down the stretch.
Eric Ayala, sliding over to point guard with Anthony Cowan Jr. out of eligibility, went 6-of-6 from the field and 4-of-4 from distance, finishing with a team-high 19 points. Sophomore Donta Scott played just 16 minutes off the bench, but tallied a career-high 14 points along with seven rebounds in that time. Darryl Morsell and Aaron Wiggins each notched 12 points, with Morsell chipping in a team-high eight boards.
Forward Kalu Ezikpe led the Monarchs with 19 points and 13 rebounds, while guard Malik Curry tallied 17 points. Old Dominion struggled against the Terps’ defense, shooting 37.9 percent overall and just 18.2 percent (6-of-33) from 3-point range.
Maryland shot the ball well, knocking down 30 of 63 field goals (47.6 percent) and 10 of 23 triples (43.5 percent). The Terps had their struggles on the glass, surrendering 14 offensive rebounds to Old Dominion and holding just a 41-38 board advantage overall against a smaller team.
Between tipoff and the final whistle, this looked like a normal game. But it was still jarring for the Terps players and coaches to play in a nearly-empty Xfinity Center, with artificial crowd noise on the speakers. And it isn’t lost on anyone in the building that even getting to game time won’t be a guarantee all season.
“It’s different, but I’ll tell you this — it was fun,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said. “It was fun to be back out there. It was taken away from us, rightfully so, last year, and it’s just fun to play a game. We know every day that we can play a game, it’s a blessing.”
Here are three takeaways from the season-opening win.
Maryland’s offense is off to a smooth start.
It’s just one game, but considering the Terps had no scrimmages to shake off cobwebs and Old Dominion fielded a top-100 defense last year per KenPom, this performance is encouraging. Maryland shot 47.6 percent from the field, 43.5 percent from 3-point range and 83.3 percent from the foul line. The Terps turned the ball over just nine times (seven before the starters checked out).
“I thought our guys did a good job tonight with the play calls and who to go to, when to go to [them], trying to draw fouls, trying to get guys in foul trouble,” Turgeon said. “We did a good job with that.”
The 3-point success is especially promising. Maryland collectively struggled in this area last year, knocking down just 31.1 percent of its triples as a team (286th nationally). The 2019-20 Terps only bettered the 43.5 percent clip in two of their 31 games. Ayala went 4-of-4 and Scott shot 3-of-5; regression by those two should be countered by improvement from Wiggins, who went 1-of-6 from distance.
The frontcourt still has some question marks.
Maryland started with the front line of Jairus Hamilton and Galin Smith, both making their Terps debuts after transferring to College Park in the spring. That pushed Scott, who made 21 starts for Maryland last season, and Marial, the 7-foot-2 high-upside sophomore, to the bench. Those two came in as part of a five-man substitution at the 13:48 mark, alongside freshman Aquan Smart, senior Reese Mona and sophomore Hakim Hart.
While Scott excelled with the second unit, Hamilton struggled to score, tallying just five first-half points and shooting 1-of-7 from the floor. Smith went 3-of-5 for six points and pulled down four rebounds, although just one of those came on defense. Marial still looked rusty at times but posted a solid stat line — seven points, four boards, two blocks, a steal and an assist.
The minutes were roughly even as Turgeon platooned both positions. Hamilton led Scott 21-16 in power forward minutes, while Smith led Marial 20-17. It’ll be interesting to see how those splits change in the coming games. Maybe Scott pulls ahead of Hamilton, or maybe those two play together more often rather than playing in a strict platoon (there’s 18 Hakim Hart minutes and 12 Reese Mona minutes that could shift toward one of the bigger forwards). As a collective, this frontcourt will need to be more assertive on the glass against these smaller mid-major opponents.
The Terps changed the game with two runs surrounding halftime.
Maryland has had a penchant these last couple of years to put these early-season games out of reach with one extended run, usually either late in the first half or early in the second. On this day, the Terps got both. The first-half run was especially pivotal, as the Terps scored 13 unanswered points to stretch their lead from 26-25 at the 5:25 mark to 39-25 with 2:52 left in the half.
Hamilton started the run with a pair of free throws and later drained a 3-pointer. Ayala knocked in a triple of his own, then Wiggins connected on a jumper, then Marial converted a 3-point play on the kind of putback layup that’s especially easy at 7-foot-2. The Terps also locked in on defense during this stretch, forcing six straight Monarchs misses as well as a shot-clock violation.
“I think we got pressure on the ball, kind of disrupted them and we got some easy [baskets] in transition,” Ayala said of the run. “It gave us the momentum right before the half and we broke away a little bit.”
Maryland followed with a flurry just after the break, following three early misses with five straight buckets to key an 11-3 run. Morsell threw down a reverse dunk for the exclamation point. Old Dominion called time, but the damage was done. Maryland led 53-32 and would cruise to the finish.
The Terps return to action Friday, Nov. 27, against Navy, then plays again Sunday, Nov. 29, against Mount St. Mary’s. Those games tip at 3 p.m. and 2 p.m. ET, respectively, and both are on BTN.
Maryland’s fourth scheduled game, against Monmouth Dec. 1, has been canceled due to a positive case in the Monmouth program. It’s unclear whether the Terps will find a new opponent for that date in the coming days, but expect them to pick up a game somewhere. That this happened on opening day signals a long season where no game is certain until the ball is tipped. But the Terps have one contest down, and they’re a convincing 1-0.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics