Maryland men’s basketball started the tenure of new head coach Kevin Willard on the right note, taking down the Niagara Purple Eagles, 71-49.
Senior forward Donta Scott impressed, leading all scorers with 18 points. The Terps were also lights out from three, shooting 9-for-20 from deep, and did not give up a single Niagara 3-pointer.
The Terps will take the floor again Thursday as they host Western Carolina at 7 p.m. Let’s dive into some takeaways from opening night.
Willard used nine guys in his first rotation of the season.
As expected, Willard rolled out a starting lineup of Jahmir Young, Don Carey, Hakim Hart, Donta Scott and Julian Reese.
Beyond those five, the bench situation seemed a bit murkier. Willard said last Friday that he and his staff feel “pretty good” about 10 guys, though the next five guys were more anyone’s guess than a concrete conclusion in the public eye.
Seton Hall transfer guard Jahari Long and junior guard Ian Martinez were the first two Terps to check in off the bench, the latter of which seems to be Maryland’s backup point guard behind Young. Long and Martinez checked in at the 15:07 mark of the first half, and Willard didn’t hesitate to make his next moves thereafter.
St. Francis Brooklyn transfer forward Patrick Emilien checked in as a backup big and the eighth Terp fewer than 30 seconds later. Freshman guard Noah Batchelor made his collegiate debut with about 13 and a half minutes to play in the first half, meaning that Willard stretched his rotation to nine before the game hit the first under-12 media timeout.
Reese picked up his second foul about halfway through the first half, seemingly altering Willard’s plans, but it’s hard to imagine that this will be the last time the emerging big gets into early foul trouble this season. Emilien, who averaged 12.5 points per game last season, could be a serviceable player this year. However, his six-foot-seven frame at the five highlights a glaring need for size that could haunt the Terps when the schedule heats up.
Redshirt freshman guard Ike Cornish and six-foot-11 freshman center Caelum Swanton-Rodger made their collegiate debuts in garbage time, though it appears Swanton-Rodger could receive more playing time moving forward.
Maryland ultimately out-rebounded Niagara, 32-28, but the Purple Eagles had 13 offensive boards to Maryland’s 11.
The Purple Eagles took advantage of Maryland’s size, but that narrative could change with different opponents.
Niagara head coach Greg Paulus did not play anyone listed taller than six-foot-seven for the majority of the night — seven-foot freshman Harlan Obioha played sparingly — but his team took advantage of the game at hand and presented issues for the Terps down low.
The Terps often utilized a 2-2-1 press that fell back into a 1-3-1 zone, which caused some confusion on the defensive end. Niagara out-rebounded Maryland in the first half, 17-13, and gathered eight offensive rebounds. The Purple Eagles turned those eight boards into six second-chance points, but there were other noticeable lapses as well.
Niagara often found holes in the Terps’ at-times-discombobulated defense, leading to a whopping 20 points in the paint in the first half. Only four of the Purple Eagles’ first-half points off field goals came outside the paint.
Maryland will need Reese to stay on the floor as much as possible, as the graduate Emilien and the Terps’ bench options will present opportunities for much bigger and better opposing teams to feast. Willard mentioned last Friday that the team is going to need to play the six-foot-six Batchelor at the four and Scott has familiarity playing the five, so plenty of different opportunities will present themselves with Reese on the bench.
Swanton-Rodger, the first-year big, is raw but should play more as taller opponents see the floor as well. Willard mentioned his reluctance to having Swanton-Rodger thrown into the fire in his debut, but opportunities are abound.
“[Caelum] has been playing, practicing great. It’s just, you know, they had a five-foot-nine guy out there playing,” Willard said. “That wasn’t gonna be a good matchup, and you don’t want a freshman going out there in the first half and not having confidence ... Against bigger teams, I think [Caelum] would be a much better fit just because he’s doing a pretty good job defending. He just can’t guard guys my size.”
With time, the team as a whole will develop chemistry and as a byproduct, the defense should improve and eliminate early-season blips. As the Terps continue to play with a fast pace that Willard has emphasized, maybe his press into zone will become a signature. Fans often complained about Mark Turgeon’s teams not pressing enough, so this could be a welcomed change of pace for the program.
Jahmir Young did a little bit of everything in his Maryland debut.
Young’s arrival to College Park has certainly not come without hype. The first player from nearby DeMatha Catholic High School to make his Maryland debut in 20 years, Young previously had a decorated three-year career at Charlotte.
Young was a First Team All-Conference USA honoree in each of the last two seasons, and he averaged 19.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game for the 49ers last season. Questions will linger over whether that production can carry over as he makes the jump in competition level, but Young answered the bell in game one for Maryland.
“Jahmir Young’s a heck of a point guard, and, you know, he’s still trying to figure out — you know, this is a totally different system that he’s used to playing,” Willard said. “And I thought his — he changed the tempo on offense, and then he changed it on defense. And I thought that just — everyone reacts to how your point guard’s playing, and when he kind of turned the boosters on, he got after it and then he just gave everyone else a little energy, a little emotion, and I felt that was the difference.”
Getting used to his first real action in Willard’s up-tempo system, Young scored 14 points and paced the team with seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Young’s dynamic scoring and ability to make plays for his teammates radiated throughout the XFINITY Center in an impressive debut.
“I mean, it’s fun. We get up and down a lot in practice, so I’m just trying to treat it like another practice, playing how we play,” Young said. “We’re such an unselfish team, we have so much talent, great shooters. So I’m just great being to play with guys who love the game and want to win.”
Young will continue to improve as he and his teammates inch closer to the same word on the same page. Through one game, though, it is clear that the Terps have an exciting player in the Charlotte transfer.
“Very comfortable,” Scott said of playing with Young. “He’s a great teammate, he shares the ball, he's very fast so he opens up a lot of other opportunities for us. And I enjoy playing alongside him.”