Maryland gets its “swag” back in 92-68 victory over UMBC

With a chance to get back on track and regain the offensive flow it has so desperately desired in the early stages of the season, Maryland basketball welcomed in-state foe UMBC into the Xfinity Center on Tuesday night, looking to avoid a disastrous 1-4 start to the 2023-24 campaign.

Despite another relatively slow start, the Terps used a 23-3 late first-half burst to leap ahead of UMBC and never look back, ultimately defeating the Retrievers, 92-68.

Maryland was reeling entering play on Tuesday having dropped three consecutive games, the most recent being a disappointing 57-40 shellacking at Villanova last Friday, to begin the season 1-3 for the first time since the 2000-01 season.

Head coach Kevin Willard believes that the ability to get home and play in a comfortable environment positively impacted his team.

“I think the guys were really excited about just coming in and playing at home,” he said. “The way they came and practiced the last two days just gave me a lot of confidence.”

Shooting struggles have been at the forefront of the multiple issues that have surrounded Maryland’s rough start to the season, as the Terps entered the game averaging just 58 points over their first four games.

On Tuesday, Maryland nearly matched its average in the first half, as freshman forward Jamie Kaiser Jr. hit a half-court heave as time expired to give the Terps a 57-24 halftime lead, capping their highest scoring first half under Willard.

The Terps were once again led by senior guard Jahmir Young, who finished with 20 points on 5-13 shooting.

“[We did a lot of things right] defensively in the first half,” Young said. “We also scored 57 points in the first half, so knocking down a couple three’s, playing inside-out … being able to limit them to a couple of shots or one shot and just getting out in transition kind of getting easy ones early … I feel like that was a key.”

Young was the catalyst on both ends of the floor in the first 20 minutes, collecting four steals to go along with his game-high 14 first-half points.

“Just getting back home in front of our fans was great,” Young said. “We’ve been on the road, obviously a tough start, but being able to come back and get our swag back was important for us.”

Maryland made its living on the interior and at the free-throw line in the first half by outscoring UMBC 26-10 in the paint, using 14 made free throws to establish a dominant inside presence.

The Terps were constantly running in transition, turning 16 first-half turnovers into 17 points as UMBC was unable to find any offensive rhythm. Maryland’s constant defensive pressure was on full display in the first half.

“I think we still have a long way to go defensively,” Willard said. “Our problem is that we haven’t been able to capitalize on those turnovers. We haven’t been able to press four or five times in a row.”

“It’s a mental thing,” he added. “And for us, it just gives us opportunities to go out and get easy shots.”

The Retrievers, who returned zero starters from a season ago, shot just 9-of-35 from the field in the first half, despite knocking down just one fewer 3-pointer than Maryland in the opening 20 minutes.

Ace Valentine led the scoring for UMBC with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting and grabbed six rebounds. The Retrievers fall to 3-3 with the loss.

UMBC’s leading scorer Khydarius Smith was held to only seven points after picking up two early fouls. In his absence, junior forward Julian Reese took advantage.

Reese continued his steady play on Tuesday, notching his second double-double of the season with 15  points and 13 rebounds in 26 minutes.

“I feel like [getting the ball] was an emphasis coming into the game before [Smith] got in foul trouble,” Reese said. “We were able to take advantage of that and dominate the boards like we did.”

Reese controlled the interior defensively, impacting nearly every Retriever paint touch. He finished with two blocks and only two fouls.

As the Terps extended their lead to over 30 in the second half, Willard was able to stretch out his depth and showcase a variety of lineups. Maryland had 13 players touch the floor with all but one entering the scoring column.

“Getting our bench guys extended minutes is huge because it gives them a chance to play without extreme pressure,” Willard said. “It’s really hard when you’re a freshman, and you’re a guy who hasn’t played a lot of minutes before and you’re a sophomore, to have to now come in and play at a high level when you haven’t done it.”

Four players finished in double figures for Maryland, including freshman guard DeShawn Harris-Smith, who bounced back after a lackluster previous three games.

Harris-Smith finished with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field. Eight of his points came in the first half, as he was able to shift his way into the lane and finish around the big men of UMBC with ease.

Donta Scott chipped in 14 points and knocked down two of Maryland’s five 3-point field goals. The Terps shot just 6-of-21 from 3-point range in the victory.

Maryland improves to 2-3 on the season and will face South Alabama on Saturday, Nov. 25.

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