No. 21 Maryland men's basketball returned to action in dominating fashion in its opener on Tuesday night, handling Quinnipiac in front of fans back in the Xfinity Center for a regular-season game for the first time since March 2020.
It took a few minutes to get settled in but this new look Maryland squad fought well throughout, earning the first win of what is likely going to be a long and grueling season. There is much to be optimistic about following the win, including some new faces who performed well on Tuesday night.
Let’s dive into some takeaways from the opener.
Big men have arrived at Maryland
Maryland has been a big man factory in recent years, from Bruno Fernando to Jalen Smith, the Terps have had a center they can rely on, most of the time. That changed last year when no true center was on the roster for head coach Mark Turgeon to insert into the lineup, forcing many of his forwards, including Donta Scott, to play out of position.
Following a year of no interior presence, Maryland completely flipped the switch. Opening night against Quinnipiac showcased not one talented center Maryland can play, but two.
Starting center Qudus Wahab, who Turgeon scooped up in the transfer portal from Georgetown, is a guy who brings it on both ends. Maryland’s guards look to feed Wahab, who has good hands, solid footwork and a nice touch. Against Quinnipiac, he led Maryland with 17 points, six rebounds and two blocks.
Maryland fans expected Wahab to come in and make an immediate impact. However, what no one expected was freshman Julian Reese to enter college as ready as he is to play at this level.
Maryland’s coaching staff has raved about Reese’s development all offseason, but this was the first look everyone else got at Reese in real action, and boy did he impress.
Reese is a long and athletic, and he stands at 6-foot-9 . He is an energetic big who can protect the rim on the defensive end but also move his feet on the perimeter. Reese rebounds at a high level, runs from basket-to-basket and can score at multiple levels. Everyone should expect the first-year player from Baltimore to have a major role off the bench.
Reese had 11 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in the game.
“Julian was great... It’s pretty unique what he’s able to do,” Turgeon said. “He’s got great hands, great length.”
After not having any big man to turn to last season, Turgeon has more at his disposal than he could have hoped a year later.
Maryland’s depth is as advertised
Turgeon told reporters all offseason how the depth of this team will be one of the strengths of the team. He insisted he could and would go nine or ten deep into his bench. In the season-opener, he did just that and the players proved him right. Maryland has a deep roster and a ton of plug-and-play guys who can fill a variety of roles, including scorers and defensive stoppers.
Against Quinnipiac, reserves Julian Reese, Ian Martinez, Xavier Green and even Pavlo Dziuba proved they can give the team quality minutes. While the Bobcats are one of the worst teams Maryland will face on its schedule, it was an opportunity for Turgeon to try out various rotations and give guys a chance to prove themselves.
Those four guys combined for 25 points off the bench on Tuesday.
“I think we have seven starters,” Turgeon said. “Those five are the ones that start the games and they did a great job.”
Maryland’s deep roster isn't only evident in how many guys take the court on a nightly basis. All of Maryland’s starters’ ability to contribute at a high level and score is also a testament to its depth.
All five guys have no problem putting the ball on the floor and making something happen. This allows the offense to have ball movement, limiting over-dribbling. Maryland struggled with this last year, resulting in an often stale and stagnant offense. With new additions, it was clear that won't be a problem as Maryland whips the ball around the perimeter to a multitude of guys who can do damage.
Newcomer guard Fatts Russell had a solid Maryland debut, showing off his incredible speed en route to 12 points. Veterans Eric Ayala and Donta Scott each also had 13 apiece. Four of the five starters and five guys in total reached double figures in the blowout.
Maryland fans proved how excited they were to be back
Turgeon has remarked on many occasions the impact Maryland fans have on his team and their performance. Through the years, Turgeon has said, Maryland has won many games they weren't supposed to because of the fans. This sure wasn't one of them as the Terps came in as 23.5 point favorites, but it speaks to the role fans have played for Maryland through the years.
That was drastically impacted last season when fans weren't allowed at any home games last season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Fans were as eager to get back in the building as the players and coaches were to have them.
“It was actually fun just to get to see faces, the people, the cheering, slapping hands and all that,” Scott said. “Fans are really key to a lot of programs so just having our fans back was really special.”
The Xfinity Center is undoubtedly, according to many national experts, one of the most difficult college basketball venues to play at in the entire country.
For a nonconference, lesser-known opponent, early on in the season, the fans showed out on Tuesday night, creating a loud and energetic atmosphere that is foreign to many Maryland players. Only three players on the current roster — Ayala, Scott and Hart — have played in front of the fans at home before in a regular season game.
As Big Ten play gets underway later in the season and tougher opponents head to College Park, the Terps will need its fan base to come through, and if opening night was any indication, the College Park faithful are ready to make its mark.