Maryland Men’s Basketball Notebook: Crunch-Time Lineup, Schedule Shuffle And More

With one week complete in the 2020-21 college basketball season, the Maryland men’s basketball team flashed its potential and posted an early 3-0 record. The Terps have taken down Old Dominion, Navy and Mount St. Mary’s at home by an average of 22 points, showcasing their balance in the process.

It’s been a smooth start on the court, but a hectic early season off the court. Maryland has had to revamp its schedule three times after scheduled opponents suffered positive COVID-19 tests, and the Terps are now scheduled to play Dec. 4 and 5 this week instead of Dec. 1 and 4. Still, Maryland is expected to complete the warm-up portion of its schedule this weekend before the competition level ramps up for good.

Here’s the rundown of what’s happened since this weekend and what’s on tap in the near future.

Maryland needed a late surge to pull away from Mount St. Mary’s for a 79-61 win Nov. 29.

When Mountaineers forward Malik Jefferson sank a left-handed jump hook over 7-foot-2 Terps center Chol Marial, Maryland found itself trailing 58-56 with 8:57 remaining. Mount St. Mary’s had stayed in the game thanks to its hot shooting, and a 14-4 run vaulted the underdog visitors on top.

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon inserted Jairus Hamilton into the lineup for Marial, giving the Terps a small but athletic lineup with the 6-foot-8 transfer effectively playing center. That lineup — Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell, Aaron Wiggins, Donta Scott and Hamilton — didn’t change for the final 8:37 of game time.

The Terps pulled ahead, gained separation and put the game away seemingly all at once, going on a 21-0 run down the stretch. After Jefferson’s bucket, Mount St. Mary’s went 0-for-13 from the field and managed just three points at the foul line before the final buzzer. What had been a nail-biter became an example of what this Maryland team can be capable of.

Scott, who scored nine points in that 23-3 closing run, finished with a team-high 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting off the bench. He also added five rebounds. Ayala shot 6-of-9 and tallied 15 points. Hamilton was 5-of-6 (including 3-of-4 from long range) and amassed 13 points and five rebounds, his best game in a Maryland uniform thus far. Veteran guards Wiggins and Morsell added 12 and 10 points, respectively, with four rebounds each.

Maryland continued its hot shooting start to the season, knocking down 59.6 percent of its field-goal attempts and 36.8 percent of its 3-pointers. Mount St. Mary’s had started 22-of-38 (57.9 percent) from the field and 8-of-12 from deep to stay even with the Terps, but 13 consecutive missed shots to close the game brought the Mountaineers to 43.1 percent shooting. Maryland didn’t turn the ball over between the 10:06 and 1:07 marks and finished with just 10.

“It’s good just to have situations like that,” Turgeon said. “[When] you’re up 25 all the time, it’s hard to keep your guys motivated, and all of a sudden you’re in a game, and we haven’t had it for eight months like that. It’s kind of fun, to be honest with you, to figure it out, and guys were terrific when their backs were against the wall.”

The Terps showed a clear crunch-time five against the Mountaineers. What does that mean?

It was clear who Maryland’s five best players were Nov. 29. All five scored in double figures and the group combined to log 146 of 200 minutes in the game. Ayala, Morsell and Wiggins have all delivered consistency early and will keep earning high-leverage minutes, but there are still some moving pieces around them.

Maryland’s frontcourt remains an interesting case study. It features four players rotating at two spots — Scott and Hamilton at power forward, Marial and Galin Smith at center. In the Terps’ season opener against Old Dominion, Hamilton and Smith earned starts but Scott dropped 14 points off the bench. Against Navy Nov. 27, Scott moved into the lineup but scored just two points; Smith was the group’s top performer with 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting, while Hamilton had six and Marial had four in relief.

On Nov. 29, Marial was clearly a step slow from the jump. Inserted into the lineup for his first college start, he struggled to keep up with Mountaineer forwards Jefferson and Nana Opoku. In just six minutes of play, Marial was a minus-5. Smith, meanwhile, picked up his fourth personal foul at the 10:06 mark and finished the game with 19 minutes played. Hamilton and Scott shared the frontcourt for a total of 14:21 in the game; Maryland was plus-20 in those minutes.

“[I liked] how well they played defensively and how they flew around,” Turgeon said of the small-ball lineup. “Jairus was giving up some length in there and he was fronting the post, and we were playing aggressive and we guarded the ball really well. And then we limited them to one shot and we really boxed out well. … And then offensively, we just spread them out and let them play.”

For Maryland to achieve its goals this season, it will need all four bigs to be reasonably productive. Turgeon still hopes Smith and Marial can remain a viable center platoon, combining to average somewhere between 12 and 16 points per game. But if those two can’t provide 40 minutes on a given night, the small-ball lineup could be a major weapon.

“It’s not a lineup we practice a lot,” Turgeon said, “but it’s gonna be a lineup we probably play more as the season goes on.”

The Terps’ schedule keeps shuffling.

Maryland’s initial schedule included a Dec. 1 home matchup against Monmouth, but the Hawks canceled that game along with three others last week due to a positive COVID-19 test in their program. The Terps quickly scheduled Towson for that date, but that was canceled due to a positive test in the Tigers’ program.

Next up in the game of musical chairs is Saint Peter’s. The Terps announced Dec. 2 that they’ll play the Peacocks on Friday, Dec. 4. Maryland’s previously scheduled opponent for Dec. 4, George Mason, announced it was pausing team activities Dec. 2 and postponing the matchup against the Terps.

Then, James Madison will host Maryland Saturday, Dec. 5, at 3 p.m. ET. Both programs made the announcement Dec. 1. This becomes the Terps’ first road game of the season. James Madison is 2-1 but ranks just 274th in Ken Pomeroy’s predictive rankings, which have 0-3 Towson 225th.

Barring another cancellation, the Terps will have five games in the books after this weekend. Maryland visits Clemson — which is 2-0 and ranked 30th in KenPom, seven spots ahead of the Terps — as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday, Dec. 9. Maryland then hosts Rutgers — 3-0, 24th in the AP Poll, 32nd in KenPom — for its conference opener on Wednesday, Dec. 14.

In other news: Maryland legend Len Bias is now a College Basketball Hall of Famer.

Bias was selected as part of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021 Nov. 29, just as the Terps were finishing off their win over Mount St. Mary’s. He’s part of an eight-man class that will be enshrined next November in Kansas City.

Maryland’s only two-time ACC Player of the Year becomes the second Terp inducted into this Hall of Fame — Tom McMillen was enshrined in 2013. Bias scored 2,149 points in his college career, graduating as the school’s all-time leading scorer. His senior season, in which he averaged 23.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, remains perhaps the most dominant year in program history. Bias was selected second overall by the Boston Celtics in the 1986 NBA Draft but died two days later after a fatal cocaine overdose.

I wrote at length this spring about how Bias’ legend lives on more than three decades after his death. He’ll never be forgotten in Maryland. And now there’s one more place for him to be remembered forever.

This story was updated after Maryland announced it was playing Saint Peter’s Dec. 4.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Thomas Kendziora

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