Maryland opens season with 68-53 victory over Mount St. Mary’s

After a 22-win season that saw Maryland finish sixth in the Big Ten and win an NCAA Tournament game, year two of the Kevin Willard era began on a good note as the Terps defeated Mount St. Mary’s, 68-53, on Tuesday night at Xfinity Center.

The victory extends Maryland’s home-opener win streak to 47, which ranks third nationally.

After leading by as many as 22 points in the second half, Maryland went seven minutes without a field goal and allowed the Mountaineers to trim the lead to as little as 12.

Late free throws helped push Maryland’s margin back to a comfortable one, as the Terps pulled away to begin the season 1-0.

The Terps entered Tuesday’s matchup with high expectations for the 2023-24 season, largely due to the return of nearly 55% of its scoring from a season ago.

One of the main returning pieces is junior forward Julian Reese, who has the potential to do serious damage in the Big Ten this season.

“I think Julian is probably one of the best college basketball players out there right now,” Willard said. “We’re working a lot through him.”

Reese led the way with 18 points and eight rebounds, and early on it was clear that one of Willard’s major goals was to get him the ball on the interior.

“I feel like I still left a lot of points out there,” Reese said. “… Nonetheless, I’m very proud of myself and proud of my team getting a win.”

Despite his success, it was a relatively slow offensive start early on, with the teams combining for 7-of-25 shooting from the field in the first eight minutes.

A quick 7-0 Maryland spurt gave Maryland a 25-14 lead with seven minutes to go in the first half.

DeShawn Harris-Smith was instrumental in helping build Maryland’s first-half lead, scoring 10 points and grabbing four rebounds as the primary ball-handler with other guards on the bench.

Harris-Smith headlines Maryland’s 15th-ranked 2023 recruiting class and gives the Terps another serious scoring threat alongside Jahmir Young in the backcourt. At 6-foot-5, his frame allows him the ability to get downhill and attack opposing bigs. That was evident throughout his first half of college basketball.

“I think as the first half went on he kind of slowed down a little bit and really made some great plays,” Willard said. “He’s such a smart player and such a competitive player.”

“I definitely feel like I’m comfortable with being a primary ball handler, that was a big reason why I came to Maryland,” Harris-Smith said. “I can run point guard when Jahmir is off the court and be a secondary ball handler when he’s on the court.”

Defensively, the Terps showed an interior presence that they somewhat lacked a season ago. Outside of Reese, Maryland’s frontcourt was thin behind him. This year, Willard feels as though his team’s size and athleticism will give them wiggle room come Big Ten play, especially the younger players.

“I thought they did fantastic, especially from a defensive standpoint,” Willard said of his freshman. “They were in the right spots, they made the right rotations, they didn’t hurt us defensively.”

Mount Saint Mary’s finished the first half cold, connecting on only two of its final 10 shots from the field as Maryland took a 33-19 lead into the break. The Mountaineers shot 30% from the field in the first half.

The Terps began to pull away in the second half, as Reese continued to assert himself down low.

Donta Scott, who was held scoreless in the first half, chipped in nine second-half points in the opening game of his final season in College Park. His scoring output will be crucial to how far this team can go in the 2023-24 season.

Scott knocked down the lone 3-pointer of the second half for Maryland, an area the Terps struggled in throughout last season.

Tuesday’s effort from beyond the arc was all too familiar, as Maryland shot 3-of-16 from 3-point range.

Despite the poor shooting effort, the Terps were able to finish strong at the free throw line, connecting on 14-of-18 in the second half.

Many questions surrounded who would be the final piece of the starting lineup after Young, Harris-Smith, Scott and Reese. Many speculated that freshman Jamie Kaiser Jr. would be slotted at the small forward position due to his 3-point-shooting ability.

Instead, Willard elected to go with Indiana transfer Jordan Geronimo, a player who Willard expects to play a large role on the interior as the season progresses.

“We’ve only worked on that lineup this week in practice,” Willard said. “Jordan needs to get more involved on offense and needs to be a little bit more active on the offensive end. [But] for the first time with him playing for me, I was really happy with the way he played.”

The early portion of the season is where Willard has the opportunity to tinker with lineups and learn his players, which was evident in Tuesday’s win.

At one point in the first half, Maryland showcased a lineup that included Mady Traore and Caelum Swanton-Rodger, both of whom stand at 6-foot-11.

This depth is something that will give Willard and Maryland the ability to interchange big men if foul trouble plays a role.

Maryland will travel to Asheville, North Carolina for the Asheville Championship next weekend. The Terps will face Davidson on Friday night at 7 p.m.

Related Links

Good FB news coming? (+)

More good news from FB practice (+)

Mike Locksley on Penn St. review, Maryland’s focus heading into Nebraska

John Fanta on expectations for Maryland basketball, veterans, favorite Kevin Willard story

Maryland basketball: roster outlook, questions heading into 2023-24 season

VIP notes: Derik Queen chase, flip target still in play (+)