There has been no shortage of entertainment in Maryland men’s basketball’s nonconference games to start the season.
The tight win over George Washington, the second-half comeback against Vermont, the five-point loss to George Mason and the two-point win over Hofstra were all barnburners. But the Terps’ win over Richmond might just be the best one yet.
Maryland overcame deficit after deficit and eventually came on top over the Spiders, 86-80, to win the first round of the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship in Nassau, Bahamas.
“I think we starting to hit our stride as a team,” senior guard Eric Ayala said. “What I’m enjoying so much about this trip is that we playing for a championship, you know, we have a championship game now on Saturday... and it’s helping us build that winning mindset.”
Maryland moved to 5-1 on the season after the win. The Terps will now play Louisville on Saturday to determine the champion of the event.
Here are the three biggest takeaways from the win.
Maryland continues to have first halves to forget
In the Terps’ sixth game of the season, the Maryland faithful hoped to see some progression chemistry-wise, as well as some sense of urgency to start out these critical nonconference games. But once again, Maryland came out flat.
Not only did they come out slow on the shooting end of things, but the defense always seemed to be a step behind whatever Richmond offered on the offense. There were plenty of times where Maryland was beat inside in the opening half, and then the typical shooting-woes made those defensive errors stand out even more.
Forward Grant Golden, a 6-foot-10 offensive maestro, was toying with center Qudus Wahab in the early goings, capturing the first few points on the inside for the Spiders, while Maryland started 0-for-2 from the floor.
Richmond then expanded its lead to 11-6, while Maryland still struggled to knock down shots. There seemed to be plenty of indecisiveness all around the floor for Maryland. An 0-for-5 start from three-point range and a 6-for-17 shooting clip from the floor as a team early on was not a good recipe to keep the Terps in this one.
The defense kept getting torched inside the paint as the half went along. Richmond graduate guard Nick Sherod was a big part of that, as he finished with the first half with 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting.
“We played a team that I thought played exceptionally well in Richmond,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Every mistake we made, which was quite a bit in the first half defensively, they made us pay.”
Maryland found itself trailing 26-22, then the Spiders started to put their foot down. Richmond, who came into the game averaging an excellent 11 three-pointers per game, hit a shot from deep to push the score to 34-26 with under three minutes left. Another four points soon after made it a 12-0 run.
Maryland’s same issues — poor shooting, indecisiveness and turnovers — haunted it in the opening half. It was the fourth time in six games that Maryland was facing a deficit going into the break.
The Terps finished the first half down nine, while they shot just 35% from the field compared to Richmond’s 51%. Maryland also had eight turnovers to Richmond’s five. The Spiders looked like the much better team over the course of the first 20 minutes and it made things that much harder for Maryland the rest of the way.
“I mean like no one wants to be down at halftime, but like that shows the fight we have in each other, like just coming back from a good team like Richmond just shows a lot,” Hart said.
Maryland needs to figure out its first-half problems and soon, especially before Big Ten play eventually rolls around.
Eric Ayala and Hakim Hart carried the team to victory
When all else seemed to fail Maryland offensively, it had two guards, neither of which were named Fatts Russell, come through in clutch fashion all night long. It was the guard duo of Ayala and Hakim Hart that carried Maryland to a tight, and much-needed, victory at a neutral site.
Maryland stayed somewhat afloat in the first half only because of what Ayala and Hart were able to produce for it on the offensive end.
Starting with Ayala, who came into the game leading Maryland in the points per game category, the senior was easily the most efficient Terp in the first 20 minutes. He was the only player for Maryland to reach double digits heading into the break after he torched the Spiders for 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting. Ayala consistently had his way on the inside and his paint presence offensively was spectacular.
Then looking at Hart, he was an absolute revelation for a roster that has been deprived of made shots basically all season long. He may not have had a massive scoring impact in the first half, scoring just five points, but his stellar defense on Richmond’s leading-scorer Tyler Burton kept the Spiders at bay at times. Hart also had three steals in the first half.
It didn’t take too long for Hart to explode offensively in the second half.
The junior caught fire at the perfect time and he finished with one of the best halves of his entire Maryland career. Hart dazzled over the final 20 minutes and shot the ball six times, hitting all six, and collected a whopping 19 points in the second half alone. He also hit three threes in the second half, one of which was a shot clock buzzer-beater from the corner, even though he entered the game with just two made threes all season.
“As far as Hakim, I mean we talk to him every day, you know, about being aggressive and just finding his rhythm,” Ayala said. “We all adjusting to our new team and our new roles and stuff, so I think today was a big step for him, taking that next step in his game and helping us out a lot.”
Ayala may have slowed down on offense in the second half compared to the first, but his impact still loomed largely. The senior added six points onto his total in the final half, but he chipped in with six rebounds, five assists and one steal.
Ayala and Hart combined for 44 of the Terps’ 86 points in the win. They also knocked down seven of their 13 tries from long range. The breakout performance from Hart is an excellent sign for Maryland moving forward, and the leadership from Ayala on the court continues to push the program in the right direction.
The Terps’ resilience shines in the important win
If there’s anything to take away from Maryland’s six-point win over a very talented Richmond team, it’s that the persistence and effort were there for the Terps. Make no mistake, this wasn't an easy or pretty game for Maryland by any means, but the fact that it came out of the first round of this event with a win was fairly impressive considering what it faced for most of the game.
Richmond had the advantage on the scoreboard the entire way as Maryland had just over four and a half minutes with the lead. In comparison, Richmond controlled the lead for 34 minutes and six seconds.
The Spiders seemed to have some kind of answer for whatever the Terps had in store, especially throughout most of the second half. Richmond held leads like 46-37, 52-45, 58-51 and even 71-63 over the course of the final 20 minutes. Richmond seemed to have the game on lock after graduate guard Xavier Green was called for a shooting foul from beyond the arc, giving the Spiders three free throws which all went down, then Turgeon was called for a technical.
But as Maryland eventually found itself trailing 71-63 with six minutes and 48 seconds remaining, it quickly transformed its brief momentum into a massive run. Forward Donta Scott nailed a three and then Russell made a layup in transition to make it a three-point game.
Maryland made it a 7-0 run, then Hart sunk a corner three from the right win to give it the 73-72 lead. The Terps trailed by as many as 12 at one point. A Russell step-back three helped Maryland hit the 80-point mark, and from that point on it was all free throws.
The Terps capped off their second-half surge on a 17-3 run and their overall resilience cannot go unlooked. It was a game that the program could have easily dropped, and probably should have dropped, but it still mustered its fifth win of the season. They’ll need some more of that late-game magic against tougher opponents in the future.
“The effort that our guys played with in the second half, really the last two and a half minutes of the first half, got us back in the game and then the start of the second half was terrific,” Turgeon said. “And the effort was just off the charts, guys battled, we got smarter defensively.
“Really a great win for us, just a great win, we needed it. We needed a battle like that and come back and do what you have to do.”