Maryland men’s basketball and head coach Kevin Willard got off to a blazing 8-0 start, capturing the hearts of its fanbase, regaining national attention and climbing up to No. 13 in the AP poll following a thrilling home win over Big Ten contender Illinois.
In the three games following, however, the Terps sputtered back down to Earth. Maryland lost its following game, 64-59, at Wisconsin, which has now risen to No. 17 in the AP poll. In their next outing, the Terps showed heart at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, coming back from down 21 to have a chance to win or tie the game at the end in a 56-53 loss.
Riding a two-game losing streak at the time, the Terps’ “emotional gas tank” — as UCLA head coach Mick Cronin described it — ran out of gas against the Bruins on Dec. 14. The Terps had a raucous XFINITY Center crowd for a blue-blood nonconference opponent but never held a lead in an embarrassing 87-60 defeat.
The Terps are about to close an eight-day break since the UCLA loss, perhaps a much-needed one. Maryland still put itself in a good position with its nonconference résumé, but it will once again have to prove itself as the new year approaches.
For now, Maryland should regroup with an easy win against last year’s NCAA Tournament darling St. Peter’s, which has a much different look for the 2022-23 season. The teams will play at 6:30 p.m. Thursday night in College Park on the Big Ten Network.
St. Peter’s Peacocks (6-5, 1-2 MAAC)
Former St. Peter’s head coach Shaheen Holloway left the program following its Cinderella run to the 2022 Elite Eight, replacing Willard — his good friend and current Maryland head coach — at Seton Hall. Stepping in for the Peacocks is new head coach Bashir Mason, who did an impressive job with Wagner, bringing the Seahawks to three NEC regular-season championships from 2013-22.
In addition to losing Holloway, the Peacocks replaced a lot of old faces from last year’s squad. Starting point guard Matthew Lee transferred to Missouri State, starting two-guard Daryl Banks transferred to St. Bonaventure, twins Hassan and Fousseyni Drame transferred to La Salle, starting power forward KC Ndefo followed Holloway to Seton Hall, starting center Clarence Rupert transferred to Southern Illinois and the face of the tournament, Doug Edert, transferred to Bryant.
It is hard to weigh success thus far this season relative to last year, but the Peacocks are 5-5 against Division I teams. Their worst loss was on the road to KenPom.com’s No. 350 team — St. Francis (NY) — and their best win was their most recent one against KenPom No. 181 Quinnipiac, 63-56, on Dec. 18. St. Peter’s is riding a two-game winning streak, with its other win in the stretch coming at Hartford on Dec. 13.
Players to know
Isiah Dasher, fifth-year guard, six-foot-four, No. 13 — Dasher is one of the two NCAA Tournament contributors back for the Peacocks, and he has been fantastic. The former Portland and JUCO product leads St. Peter’s with 13.9 points per game and is shooting 37.5% from three. He is averaging 26 points per game during the Peacocks’ current win streak.
Jaylen Murray, sophomore guard, five-foot-11, No. 5 — Murray is the only other consistent rotation player back from the Peacocks’ run last season, and he has capitalized primarily playing backup point guard. Murray is by far the Peacocks’ second-leading scorer at 13.6 points per game, and he is averaging 3.4 assists per game. Murray has missed the last three games, though, and has not played since Dec. 3.
Latrell Reid, senior guard, six-foot-three, No. 0 — Reid is a second-year Peacock but only played one minute in last year’s NCAA Tournament. This season, he is playing the most minutes on the team at 28.6 per game. His shooting has been subpar — only 29.5% from the field — but he is the Peacocks’ leading assist-getter, averaging 4.5 dimes per game.
Offensive rebounding. St. Peter’s actually has decent size, as redshirt freshman forward Mouhamed Sow stands at six-foot-nine, as does freshman forward Thomas Tut. The Peacocks have a 37.2% offensive rebounding percentage, the 15th-best in the nation. Sow leads the Peacocks with 2.4 offensive rebounds per game.
Shooting. The Peacocks are a miserable shooting team; their 44.1% effective field goal percentage ranks 343rd in America, according to KenPom. St. Peter’s is shooting 31.15% from 3-point range, which checks in at 293rd in Division I. According to KenPom, its 43.2% rate on two-point attempts ranks 340th in Division I.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland shoot the ball at a higher clip? It is no secret that in its last two losses, Maryland’s shooting dug it in a hole. The Terps were an abysmal 2-for-24 from deep against Tennessee and 0-for-10 in the second half. Maryland made 11 triples against UCLA, but a lot of them came in garbage time, as the Terps were just 2-for-11 from deep in a first half where they scored just 20 points. Maryland should beat St. Peter’s no matter what, but it would be encouraging to see a better shooting performance.
2. Will sophomore forward Julian Reese play? Reese took an elbow to his right shoulder in the first half against UCLA, and he did not return for the second half of action. Willard said after the game that “it was more of a cautionary thing than anything else.” Reese was seen icing his shoulder in the second half of last Wednesday’s game, and the rest should have helped him return to 100%.
Willard said Wednesday that Reese is “day-by-day” and “progressing nicely.” They hope to have him against St. Peter’s.
“We’ve taken it real slow with him and making sure we get that 100% healed,” Willard said.
3. Will the Terps look re-energized following an eight-day hiatus? Willard said after the UCLA game that the team was going to have four days where his guys could focus on their studies for finals and get some rest. He mentioned that last Sunday would be their first real day off since before the Louisville game on Nov. 29, which has to be beneficial to a team that tolerated a brutal stretch of both competition and traveling. The XFINITY Center should be lackluster for a weak opponent with the students out of town, but the Terps should look and feel rejuvenated coming out of the break.
“The guys didn’t really get a break until — unfortunately because of finals, having the 9 p.m. game was kind of tough for them — so they got three days off,” Willard said. “They got a couple days off with me since I’ve been recruiting since the UCLA game, and then we just kind of got back after it two days ago ... So kind of just giving them a chance to kind of focus on their studies was really the biggest thing. I wanted them to finish up well academically. So really, just giving them that time, and then letting them get away from basketball while they focus on studies.”