Kevin Willard Credits Defensive Efforts, Julian Reese After 71-51 Win over Western Carolina

Maryland shot 29% through the first 18 minutes despite building a double-digit lead, but the eighth career double-double from Julian Reese (18 pts, 12 reb) carried the Terps to a 71-51 win over Western Carolina.

“This is the Julian I see every day in practice. He’s been like this for the past month,” Willard said postgame. “What I saw the first game was a guy that didn’t play a whole lot last year and had a little nerves in his first game. What I saw today was a kid that accepted my challenge and wanted to be dominant. I think you’re just seeing a small sliver of how good Julian can be.”

Reese was one of three players in double figures in the win. After scoring 18 points in the season opener, Donta Scott tallied seven points and remains seven shy of 1,000 in his career while Don Carey shot just 1-of-7 from the field. Despite finishing with one point, forward Patrick Emilien flashed on the defensive end as one of two players with two blocks and did so in 19 minutes. “I thought Pat was the difference, to be honest with you,” Willard said postgame. “You guys are going to think that I’m crazy, but he goes 0-for-1 and 1-for-2 from the free throw line and doesn’t have a rebound and I thought he played great,” Willard added. “The reason I thought he played great is because if you go to the plus-minus, he’s plus-21 and if he does that every night, I’m going to be really, really happy with Pat. He was physical, offensively he set some screens that got guys open. I thought he played with much more energy, I thought he looked more lax.”  But the concern sits once again in the frontcourt after Maryland barely outrebounded Western Carolina 41-40.

One game after shooting 45% from deep, Maryland finished just 2-of-17 from three despite the win. “They came out and we really played hard and executed well on the defensive end. I just don’t think they’re quite where they want to be where they can play that hard on the defensive end and then when we transition to the offense, to have our game legs under us,” Willard said. Hakim Hart, who scored 10 or more points for the 26th time in his career, knocked down the first triple minutes into the second half and finished shooting over 50% from the field for the second consecutive games. “[Hakim] can just keep doing what he’s doing,” Willard added. “I think I’d like to see him be a little bit more aggressive early in the game, but I’m also starting to learn Hak needs a little time to kind of find the flow of the game and certain players are like that.”

Still, Maryland would be able to get by with an inefficient offense thanks to holding to Catamounts to 51 total points on 27% shooting. Maryland also allowed just 15 points in the first half, marking the lowest since allowing just 14 points against Michigan State back on December 30, 2014. Despite 12 Maryland turnovers, including nine in the second half, Maryland turned to 17 Catamount turnovers into 22 points as Willard is impressed with his team’s defense. “These kids are playing so hard. I’m having fun just watching them. They’re playing together, they’re talking, they’re communicating,” Willard added. “To be this connected defensively this early is really good.”

Maryland will host Binghamton on Tuesday, November 15 at 7 PM.

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