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A look at Maryland men’s basketball’s historically bad shooting start

Maryland is shooting just 25% from three through its first five games.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland men’s basketball is off to a slow start shooting the ball through its first five games. Well, that would be putting it kindly. Maryland is struggling to knock down perimeter shots in the early part of the season. That might be an understatement, too.

The Terps have been abysmal shooting from long range at a historical level through their first five games which have allowed many lesser opponents to stick around late in games and even saw George Mason upset the then-20th ranked Terps last week and bump them out of the AP poll top 25.

Maryland is off to its worst start shooting the three-ball through its opening five matchups of the season since before the 2014-15 season (as far back as game-by-game statistics go on Maryland’s official team site) at 25.4% on about 22 attempts per game.

But it gets worse. Maryland is currently ranked 342nd in the country in three-point percentage. There are 358 active Division I teams listed.

In an era of basketball driven by the three-ball, it’s hard to win games, particularly against better opponents, by not making shots. And while Maryland has been able to escape wins against some mid-major opponents, it will be much more difficult to come back shooting this poorly against highly-ranked Division I teams that are creeping up on the Terps schedule.

Here’s the good news for Maryland: once one hits rock bottom, the only place to go is up. It’s unfathomable to think Maryland’s cold start to the season shooting from distance can continue for much longer, especially not at this level.

After the win over Hofstra, head coach Mark Turgeon commented on the shooting woes in a somewhat facetious manner.

“Maybe us getting out of here, going down to warm weather and just bonding, maybe we’ll come back one of the hottest teams shooting the ball in America, we’ll see,” Turgeon said.

While it’s unlikely the Terps will come back the hottest team in the country, it should be expected that Maryland starts to hit shots at a high level.

When examining Maryland’s poor shooting start, it’s important to take a look at individual performances as a barometer for how they can, and will, improve as the season goes on. Although they don't look the part right now, Maryland has good three-point shooters on its roster.

Maryland’s poor shooting starts with its shooting guard Eric Ayala, who has taken by far the most three-point attempts on the team and is likely the best scorer on the roster. Ayala has attempted 42 threes in five games, good for 8.4 per game while knocking down just 28.6% of them. The next highest volume shooter after Ayala hasn't even attempted half as many threes as the senior guard.

While he has yet to find his rhythm this season, Ayala is capable of getting hot from deep, and even when his three-ball isn't falling, can score in a variety of ways. Ayala’s freshman season, he shot 40.6% from deep on 3.8 attempts per game. That number dipped quite a bit his sophomore season but was back up to 33.7% on 5.8 attempts per game last season.

The eight attempts are a drastic increase, but if there is one thing everyone knows about Ayala, it’s that his confidence will never waver, and he’ll likely, eventually, find his groove.

Next is forward Donta Scott, who is tied for the second-most attempts on the team. Scott proved to be a real threat from deep last season, finishing the season at a 43.8% clip on 3.6 attempts per game. This year, he’s taken a similar number of attempts but is connecting on just 26.3%.

It’s not just his three-ball that has started the season slowly, Scott hasn’t been the offensive force that he was last season. He has scored in double figures just twice this season. However, anyone who has watched Scott knows the player he can be, so no one should expect this rough scoring stretch to continue.

Transfer guard Ian Martinez shot 32.4% last season at Utah and is shooting 21.1% to start this season. Junior guard Hakim Hart, who has been a streaky shooter throughout his Maryland career, is shooting 18.2% on just over two attempts per game. Last season, he shot 33% from deep.

Fatts Russell doesn't take a ton of threes but is connecting on just 25% of them. That’s a similar percentage to Russell’s last year at Rhode Island where he shot just 23.5% from deep. However, last season Russell dealt with injuries that certainly contributed to that low percentage. In the 2019-20 season, Russell made 35.7% of his threes on 5.6 attempts per game.

All of that is to say, Maryland’s players have proven to be quality shooters in previous years, giving hope to Terp nation that this poor shooting is bound to improve.

“We have shooters and I’m confident we’re going to start making shots,” Russell said. “We just got to take the right ones and take them confidently.”

Maryland has only shot below 30% from three through its first five games twice in the last seven years, with the last time being the 2019-20 season when Maryland started the season shooting 29% from beyond the arc.

As it turned out, Maryland finished that season shooting 31%, just a slight increase from how it started the season. That 31% from three in the 2019-20 season was Turgeon’s teams’ worst three-point shooting season since he became head coach in 2010, statistically speaking, and the worst at Maryland since the 1990-91 season, five years after the three-point line was created in college basketball.

Despite the three-point struggle, that 2019-20 Maryland team saw its fair share of success, capturing a share of the Big Ten regular season title before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down its season.

Different personnel and rosters warrant different strengths, so comparing this squad’s start to past teams may not be the best indicator of how the team will finish, but it is noteworthy that in six of the last seven years Maryland has finished the year with a three-point percentage of 35% or better. A 10% increase from three for this Maryland team would be massive to its offensive success and its ability to get more creative on offense.

Maryland has a matchup with Richmond on Thanksgiving night this Thursday, then it will take on either Mississippi State or Louisville on Saturday in the Bahamas for the Baha Mar Hoops event. From there is the ACC/Big Ten challenge against Virginia Tech and then Big Ten play begins. If Maryland is going to start hitting its shots, now is the time.

And who knows, maybe the warm weather and team bonding will help. Only time will tell if the shooting, and the offense, will improve.