Willard, Jahmir Young discuss Maryland debuts as Donta Scott Recaps Dominant Performance

A comfortable, calm Kevin Willard took the podium following Tuesday night’s 71-49 win over Niagara, but there was a sense of uneasiness in the hours leading up to tipoff.

“It was weird to be honest with you,” Willard added. “I didn’t have to commute down to the arena. I didn’t know what to do. I had so much time. I worked out twice.” In the end, Willard didn’t need to stress much with Maryland leading for all but 17 seconds on the game as Niagara and head coach Greg Paulus were outmatched. Donta Scott’s commitment to reframing his frame paid off in Monday’s win as he led the way with a game-high 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-5 from deep.

“[Donta is] gonna be an 18-and-10 guy. I think he’s gonna be a First-Team All-Big 10 player. I do, I believe that. 35 minutes is probably way too many minutes for him in the first game, but he’s earned, he’s earned it from his career here…I wanted him to get gassed, I wanted him to be tired just ‘cause I think it’s good for him going forward. It’s not easy playing 35 minutes this time of year.” Scott acknowledged the early load as a sign for improvement heading into Thursday night. “I let my kind of soreness, or a little bit of fatigue get to me but next game, I’ve just got to not think about it and improve.”

Julian Reese, meanwhile, finished with seven points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes, but saw his playing time cut short early after picking up two fouls within a 90-second span. Willard admitted he “had a lot of faith that he wasn’t going to pick up his third” while noting the need to feed Reese more. “We just gotta get him some touches down low. We gotta get him the ball a little bit. That’s gonna come, but I thought Julian took a good step. He’s gotta be a little bit more of a presence defensively, but that’s going to come.”

Grad transfer Patrick Emilien backed up Reese at the five and finished with four points and a pair of rebounds in 14 minutes, while freshman center Caelum Swanton-Rodger closed out the final two minutes of regulation and knocked down his first career attempt. Willard noted that while Swanton-Rodger has “been playing and practicing great,” Niagara presented unfavorable matchups for the first-year big man. “They had a 5-foot-9 guy out there playing. That wasn’t gonna be a good match up and you don’t want a freshman going out there in the first half and not having confidence. And Pat played really, really well last week at the five spot when he had, when Ju didn’t play. Against bigger teams, I think Cal would be a much better fit just because he’s doing a pretty good job defending. He just can’t guard a guy that’s my size.”

Maryland built an early lead in the opening minutes of the first half and after an 18-8 lead roughly six minutes into the game, an early Niagara timeout was met with an erupting Xfinity Center with the Terps finding their groove. A big reason for that was Maryland’s defensive efforts as they mixed in both man and zone, fullcourt and halfcourt press to turn 12 Niagara turnovers into 17 points. Maryland finished with nine steals, including a career-high five steals from Ian Martinez, to highlight the defensive efforts.

Niagara trimmed the lead down to as little as four points in the second half, but the Terps would assemble a 11-2 run over the next six minutes to reestablish a healthy lead. Willard admitted the Terps have “a long way to go with our press” but was pleased with how his team protected the ball in game one. “I’d like to see [Niagara] have more turnovers,” Willard added. “I mean, if they had 15 turnovers and we had 10, I’d be pretty happy with a plus-five differential. For as fast as we’re playing, as many guys are touching the ball and being your first game to have a 12 assist, 10 turnovers, and I’m pretty happy with that.

But there’s one glaring concern in Willard’s eyes that he still has to work through.

“I have to figure out my secondary rotation. We were in a really good offensive rhythm. We were scoring and then I got, I put two lineups out there that really haven’t practiced together and it was very evident that,” he added. “All of a sudden we got very steady stationary in offense towards the second 10 minutes of the first half and wasn’t the player’s fault, it was my fault because I put in terrible lineups that haven’t practiced together and we didn’t know what the heck we were doing. And so, we just started standing around, but I’m trying to get to see what certain guys can do and trying to get as many guys game experience as possible, so it was bad coaching.”

Point guard Jahmir Young was the second Terp alongside Scott to finish in double-figures as he tallied 14 points on 50% shooting from the floor in 30 minutes, while adding a team-high seven rebounds and four assists. Monday’s win also gave Young, fellow Maryland native, a chance to have his friends and family watch his Terrapin debut. “We’re only assigned like four tickets, but I had like 30 people come,” Young joked.

While the long-awaited offseason is over for Maryland as fans can begin to look ahead to the schedule, Scott knows he and his teammates have a chance to leave their imprint on the Willard era.

“It’s a new era. We’re going to make it our era. We’re going to make it the best we can make it and that starts by us just practicing to the best of our ability, step on the court and show our talents.”

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