It was a brutally ugly first half of offensive basketball between Maryland men’s basketball and Western Carolina.
That was until the final minute of the frame, when the Terps finally picked up the offensive spark they needed. Graduate guard Jahmir Young converted on an old-fashioned three-point play, and the Terps used that energy to turn defense into offense.
Senior guard Hakim Hart had two fast-break layups in the final seconds of the first half — one that came off his own steal and one the byproduct of a block by Young. It took just 52 seconds for Maryland to rip off a 7-0 run and coast to a 17-point halftime lead, which is all it needed Thursday night.
“It was important, just especially, just on the defensive end,” Young said. “Hakim’s special on both ends on the floor. He was able to bring that spark for us, and I feel like later in the game that also helps, so that helps the team get going.”
Maryland ultimately closed out the Catamounts, 71-51, to jumpstart a 2-0 record on the season. Sophomore forward Julian Reese led the Terps with a career-high 19 points.
Game two of the Kevin Willard era began in front of a lackluster XFINITY Center crowd, but the Terps raced to a hot start and never looked back.
Young got Maryland going with a turnaround shot after posting up five-foot-eight junior guard Russell Jones Jr., and his playmaking activated Reese early.
Reese scored eight of Maryland’s first 10 points, taking advantage of a small Catamounts squad and surpassing his game one scoring total in under six minutes.
Once again, junior guard Ian Martinez, graduate forward Patrick Emilien and junior guard Jahari Long were the first three Terps off the bench as Willard continues to tinker with his rotation. Redshirt freshman guard Ike Cornish checked in for the first meaningful minutes of his college career following the under-eight media timeout.
Willard moved away from his frantic 2-2-1 press from Monday night and instead employed a lot of man-to-man looks on the defensive end.
The Terps did not do anything astoundingly well on the offensive end in the first half, but they capitalized on their size advantage and held a 20-10 lead without making a three with nine minutes until the break.
The first half took a turn for the worse as each team only mustered two points apiece between the nine-minute mark and the under-four timeout.
Maryland had enough of the dry spell, though, ending the half on an extended 16-5 stretch.
The Terps owned an astounding 32-15 halftime advantage but only shot 39% from the field and did not make a first-half 3-pointer. Thanks to an impressive defensive effort that forced 10 first-half turnovers, Maryland held Western Carolina to just a 20% clip from the field in the first 20 minutes.
Hart finally got Maryland’s first 3-point bucket early in the second half, breaking an 0-for-10 drought and extending its lead to 20.
Reese put on a highlight sequence to give Maryland its then-biggest lead of the game at 57-31 with about nine minutes to go. The sophomore grabbed the rebound on one end, flattened a Catamount on a screen on the other and took the ball off the screen for an acrobatic layup plus the foul.
“Every day in practice this is the Julian we see,” Willard said. “He’s been like this for the last month. What I saw in the first game was the guy that hasn’t — didn’t get a whole lot — didn’t play a whole lot last year, had a little nerves in his first game. What I saw today was a kid that accepted my challenge and wanted to be dominant. And this is, again, I think you’re just seeing a small sliver of how good Julian is gonna be.”
The rest of the night was par for the course, as Maryland closed out another blowout nonconference win. The Terps will return to the court next Tuesday, hosting Binghamton to close out a three-game homestand.
Three things to know
1. Defense set the tone. Maryland did not play particularly great on the offensive end, but it put forth a stout showing defensively. The Catamounts shot an abysmal 6-for-30 in the first half and had just 15 points at the break. Even though Maryland did not have its A- or B-game offensively, its grittiness never allowed the Catamounts to bring the game within single digits in the second half. The Terps rarely pressed but managed to force 17 turnovers.
“I loved their intensity in the Niagara game, we just were getting overexposed,” Willard said. “I mean, we talked about it. We worked on it on Tuesday, we worked on it again Wednesday and we worked on it again today in walkthrough. And this is a team that understands that — every game we’ve played so far, from Virginia to now, we’ve gotten better and better defensively.”
2. Three-point struggles. Against Niagara, Maryland’s 3-point shooting was a revelation. The Terps started 5-for-7 from beyond the arc and kept it going all Monday night, ending with a 45% mark. On Thursday, that wasn’t the case. Maryland didn’t make any of its first 10 threes and finished the night with a lowly 11% 3-point percentage. Noted 3-point sniper Don Carey is just 1-for-10 from distance this season.
“Let it fly. Let it fly, that’s who we are,” Willard said. “We’re gonna have to shoot the ball. Like I said, when your team plays as hard as those guys are playing, I’m not gonna tell them anything besides just go hoop ... If we make two or three of those threes — I’ll let Don Carey shoot the ball anytime, anywhere, how many times he wants to shoot. He has the ultimate green light, which so does everybody.”
3. Points in the paint. Though the Terps didn’t have their best night shooting the rock, they took full advantage of the noticeable difference in both size and strength. Maryland vastly outscored Western Carolina in the key, holding a 46-20 advantage. Reese improved from an average game one — imposing his will inside — and Maryland’s guards made impacts with post moves as well.
“I feel like that’s a key for our success this season,” Reese said. “Nights like this, we off from three, I got to take that role on and open things up for outside so they can start crashing in on the paint, so we can get those more open threes and more better shots from outside. I feel like we’re gonna be successful doing that.”