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Three takeaways from Maryland men’s basketball’s commanding win over Western Carolina

The Terps improved to 2-0 on the year.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

Maryland men’s basketball improved to 2-0 on the season with an easy win over Western Carolina, defeating the Catamounts, 71-51. Despite offensive woes from both teams, the Terps cruised to a victory and led by up to 30 points over a team that looked simply outmatched.

Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s game.

Western Carolina had no answer for the Terps in the paint.

Maryland feasted down low on the Catamounts, finding success seemingly every time it sent the ball toward the rim.

Sophomore forward Julian Reese was the star of the show Thursday, as he used his size and agility to lead the Terps early, racking up 10 points before the first half was halfway over. Western Carolina had nobody on its roster that could contend with Reese’s physicality, and he let the Catamounts know it with his play and his swagger on the court.

Reese brought the XFINITY Center crowd to its feet midway through the second half when he laid a hard screen on a Catamounts player and promptly converted a layup while being fouled. He would go on to score a career-high 19 points, also grabbing 12 rebounds for his first career double-double.

“Running the floor, playing defense, boxing out, things like that that don’t show up on the stat sheet, they get me going,” Reese said.

Although it was against a lackluster opponent nowhere close to the skill level — especially at the forward position — of future nonconference and Big Ten opponents, Reese’s performance offered a glimpse at his lofty potential moving forward.

“Today, he accepted my challenge and wanted to be dominant,” Maryland head coach Kevin Willard said of Reese after the game. “... I think you’re just seeing a small sliver of how good Julian could be.”

Graduate guard Jahmir Young also made a living in the paint, either backing down his defender — most successfully when guarded by five-foot-eight Russell Jones Jr., over whom Young has a five-inch and nearly 20-pound advantage — or attacking the rim off the dribble, usually running a pick-and-roll with Reese or another forward.

By the end of the game, Maryland had accumulated 26 more points in the paint than its opponent.

It was a poor shooting night for both teams.

Against an opponent like Western Carolina, the Terps can survive a bad shooting night and still come away with a victory, but they won’t be able to do so against a better team that will make them pay.

Willard has preached his desire for his team to get up and down the floor and shoot a lot of threes, meaning that the team will need to knock down those shots or else a long scoring drought will be on the docket. That was the case Thursday, as on multiple occasions, Maryland would push the pace and rush possessions, settling for quick threes that wouldn’t fall.

The Terps had a first-half stretch where they missed 12-of-14 shots from the field, including six threes. Luckily for Maryland, Western Carolina went 1-for-18 over that same stretch. That simply won’t happen when Maryland plays better opponents, as the Catamounts may very well be the worst team on its schedule this season.

The team’s struggles from three-point range were much due to the inabilities of its presumed best shooters to knock down jumpers. Young, senior forward Donta Scott, senior guard Hakim Hart and graduate guard Donald Carey went a combined 0-for-5 from three in the first half and 1-for-6 in the second. Moving forward, those four will need to play similar to the way they did in the season-opener against Niagara, with the exception of Carey, who is a dismal 1-for-10 from beyond the arc through two games. Still, Willard has confidence in Carey and the rest of his team to shoot the ball freely.

“If they’re playing that hard, I’m gonna let them fire away,” Willard said. “... I’ll let Don Carey shoot the ball anytime, anywhere. However many times he wants to shoot, he has the ultimate green light.”

Scott was especially ineffective after leading the team in scoring in its previous game, missing all four of his jump shots and registering just seven points. As someone the coaching staff has keyed in on as a potential all-conference-type player, he will need to contribute more on the offensive end moving forward.

Despite its offensive struggles, Maryland locked down on defense.

The Terps played strong defense Thursday, holding Western Carolina to just 15 first-half points and 51 by the time the final buzzer sounded. The Catamounts shot just 27% from the field and had six instances of going at least four possessions without a basket. They scored on just two of their last 25 possessions in the first half.

In addition to encouraging fast play on the offensive end, Willard has emphasized tight defensive pressure — especially in man-to-man sets, which Maryland has run a lot of through two games — that spans the entire court. That pressure paid off against the evidently-flustered Catamounts, who turned the ball over 17 times Thursday night.

While the Terps did sometimes pick up their men full-court, they didn’t double-team and trap in the backcourt nearly as often as they did against Niagara and instead focused on tightening up in the half court, intercepting a few errant passes and deflecting some more.

Maryland did a good job turning its defensive success into offense, scoring 22 points off turnovers. With superior speed and ball-handling to its opponent, the Terps were deadly when they got out in transition.

“We’re gonna make mistakes, but [Willard] lets us play, I feel like we make good decisions and I feel like when we’re in transition we have a lot of athletes,” Young said.

Even when the game slowed down, Western Carolina was simply outmatched from a physical perspective and couldn’t muster much in one-on-one matchups. Its best opportunities came when it forced Maryland’s players to quickly switch and opened up opportunities for perimeter shots, but a combination of Maryland contesting those shots and poor shooting wasn’t a combination for success.

The Terps’ depth kept the players on the floor fresh and allowed them to play with high intensity, and with the exception of a late run once the outcome of the game was decided and the benches were unloaded, the Catamounts never scored more than five unanswered points.