As Maryland men’s basketball’s all-time leading scorer and the centerpiece of the only team to bring a national championship to College Park, Juan Dixon’s jersey hangs in the rafters of XFINITY Center. Naturally, when he brought his Coppin State team there for a matchup with the Terps, there was plenty of added motivation.
Unfortunately for him, his squad ran into another Baltimore native repping Maryland — Julian Reese.
Reese, a sophomore forward, has burst onto the scene and blossomed into a star in his second collegiate season. He entered Friday’s game averaging 13.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, shooting a blistering 79.4% from the field.
He bested all three of those numbers in the first half against Coppin State, converting all nine of his attempts from the field for a total of 22 points, also grabbing eight rebounds. Reese finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds; his playing time was limited in the second half after getting into foul trouble.
“Getting into the game, you wanna bring that intensity that some people, some people not bringing it,” Reese said. “Again, just confidence really. I feel like if I play like that, we unstoppable.”
Reese’s play spearheaded a 95-79 Maryland victory, improving the team’s record to 6-0 and keeping it undefeated early in Kevin Willard’s first season as head coach.
“Felt great coming back home, being on the sidelines,” Dixon said after the game. “You know, Maryland’s gonna have a great season. They have a great coach, have a great bunch, the guys play hard and they execute really well. But I’m proud of our guys, and we’re gonna keep getting better.”
Before Reese took the game over, the Eagles hung around and kept it close, even taking the lead on a few occasions. Maryland struggled to establish itself and struggled shooting the ball, starting 0-for-4 from three. With Dixon providing energy from the sideline, Coppin State kept it competitive against its in-state foe.
That changed when Maryland began to focus its play through Reese, who created some separation on the scoreboard.
Although it was Reese that led the way for the Terps, senior guard Hakim Hart showed out in the first half too, tallying 16 points. With just over a minute on the clock, Hart knocked down a 3-pointer directly in front of Dixon and the Eagles’ sideline.
Hart, known more for his stoic demeanor than anything of the contrary, was given a technical foul for directing his celebration at the opponent. After some choice words were exchanged between Willard and the officials, Hart let his play do the talking and nailed another triple to send the Terps into the half with a 47-36 lead. He finished the game with 22 points and eight rebounds.
“It’s very fun playing with this group of guys,” Hart said. “The offense is very good. It fits my style of play. It’s just fun overall.”
Coppin State never seriously threatened Maryland’s lead in the second half, but the strong play of senior guard Sam Sessoms kept the Eagles within striking distance. Sessoms, who transferred from Penn State and had scored a total of 31 points against Maryland in three prior matchups with the Nittany Lions, was the Eagles’ best player Friday, ending his night with 28 points. Early in the second half, he was assessed a technical foul, some foreshadowing for the events that would transpire not long after.
“We were going to let him get his a little bit,” Willard said of his plan for Sessoms. “We were going to try to take away some of his kicks. He’s been passing the basketball at a very high level ... He’s a good player.”
As Hart misfired on a 3-pointer with 14 and a half minutes left, Reese and Coppin State redshirt sophomore guard Isaiah Gross got tangled up fighting for the rebound. The pair hit the floor and immediately confronted each other, leading to a scrum that resulted in three more technical fouls being issued — one to Reese, one to Gross and another to the Maryland bench, ending with assistant coaches Grant Billmeier and Tony Skinn getting ejected from the game.
“I would gladly lose two assistants any time to make sure we don’t have a fight,” Willard said. “I’m sure people are gonna lose more assistants because I think I’m not going to tell my assistants not to go on the floor to stop a fight or stop something because they might get kicked out of the game.”
Just over a minute later, Eagles redshirt junior guard Alex Rojas was awarded the game’s sixth and final technical foul.
“I want our team to play that hard and play with that type of intensity,” Dixon said. “I’m okay with altercations as long as none of my guys get disrespectful and throw any punches.”
“They understand the talent level is different and they try to do things outside of basketball to get the edge, try to take us out of our game,” Reese said. “I feel like we handled that well. Still some things we could have done better, but I feel like overall we handled it well.”
The game cooled down after that, and the Terps began to pull away. They began to frustrate the Eagles more, running in transition and taking advantage of mistakes. As the clock neared the 11-minute mark, Maryland graduate guard Jahmir Young executed a perfect alley-oop to junior guard Ian Martinez, who threw down an acrobatic dunk to ignite an already excited crowd.
Young was the best player for Maryland not named Reese or Hart on Friday, putting in his best offensive performance as a Terp. He had 21 points — the most he’s scored in his six games in a Maryland uniform — and added five assists, running the offense effectively.
As the clock winded down, Maryland began to pull away and add to its lead, eventually winning by 16 points as the most difficult portion of its schedule nears. In a span of 15 days, the Terps will have to play road games at Louisville and Wisconsin, home games against No. 16 Illinois and No. 19 UCLA and a neutral site game against No. 22 Tennessee.
Three things to know
1. The Terps remained undefeated under Willard. No head coach had ever started their career 5-0 before Willard did so, and now his first team in College Park is 6-0. All six of its wins have come by 16 or more points. With a ranking now next to its name, the pressure was on to prove that it was warranted. A win over Coppin State doesn’t wholly prove that, but the Terps put forth a solid showing Friday.
2. Patrick Emilien did not play. Patrick Emilien, a St. Francis (NY) transfer, has provided valuable minutes for the Terps this season, hustling on defense and providing a boost on the boards. He did not see the court against Coppin State due to an ankle sprain, and as a result Willard had to mix up his rotations, favoring a smaller lineup when Reese began to pick up fouls.
3. Maryland was able to win despite Donta Scott’s quiet showing. Senior forward Donta Scott came out of the gates on fire in the first five games of the season, averaging a team-leading 16.8 points and heralding compliments from Willard, who said that he believes Scott is capable of being a First Team All-Big Ten player. Scott only had nine points Friday, but the play of his teammates was enough to get Maryland a win.