Coming off three consecutive losses, Maryland men’s basketball was presented with a golden opportunity to get itself back in the win column against St. Peter’s at home. The Terps struggled shooting the ball early, but an imposing defensive performance and superb offense thereafter allowed them to take advantage and coast to a 75-45 win over the Peacocks on Thursday night in College Park.
Prior to the game, it was announced that sophomore forward Julian Reese would be inactive because of a shoulder injury suffered during the Terps’ loss to UCLA over a week earlier. Head coach Kevin Willard initially diagnosed the injury as a minor one, saying that Reese sitting out the second half was “cautionary.”
Willard was unwilling to discuss Reese’s status following Thursday’s game, but his health moving forward will be paramount for an already-undersized Maryland team. The Terps were being out-rebounded 11-3 at one point in the first half and the final rebounding margin was 38-30 in favor of St. Peter’s — a number that would surely be wider if they were to be playing without Reese against a Big Ten opponent.
“We’re just not a big team, so I don’t think we’re ever gonna be a great rebounding team, I think the goal is just to be a good rebounding team,” Willard said.
In place of Reese, graduate forward Patrick Emilien started the game. Junior guard Ian Martinez also started for the first time this season in place of graduate guard Don Carey, who has a reputation as a knockdown shooter but has struggled from deep since joining the Terps as a transfer from Georgetown.
Carey did little offensively to improve his standing Thursday, as he went just 1-for-6 from 3-point range — he has made just four of his 34 threes at home this season — while Martinez looked comfortable seeing his playing time increase, scoring seven points and providing solid minutes.
“Just come out with energy, especially on the defensive side,” Martinez said his mindset was as a starter. “We needed it, I believe, a lot, and I think that’s kind of my job, just go out there and speed up the game, get a little energy going.”
Carey did lead the team with eight rebounds and four assists, however, playing well outside of his shooting.
While Emilien will likely be relegated back to a bench role and won’t replicate the 26 minutes he played Thursday when Reese is healthy, he more than held his own and was a key factor in Maryland’s offense, pouring in eight first-half points, two more than his previous season-high. He finished with 10.
“I think it’s been good to experience that for sure,” Emilien, who transferred to Maryland from St. Francis (NY), said of playing at the high-major level. “Mostly just playing against bigger guys. ... It’s been an adjustment but I think it’s been good. I’ve been embracing the contact and having fun with it.”
With two fresh faces in the starting lineup, Willard was more than willing to extend his bench. Before eight and a half minutes had elapsed, Willard had already sent 10 different players onto the floor, and he continued to mix and match his lineups all game long; 10 players played double-digit minutes Thursday night.
“Just kind of gave them a chance for guys that have been practicing hard and working hard to just get out and play a little bit, I think in an environment that was a little bit less stressful than playing Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee and UCLA,” said Willard, referencing Maryland’s previous four games.
It wasn’t a blazing hot start for Maryland by any means, though. By the time Donta Scott — who started 0-for-5 from the field — made his first basket of the evening over 10 minutes in, St. Peter’s only trailed Maryland by two and was hanging around due to the Terps’ offensive struggles.
But Maryland pulled away, going on a 14-3 run that was spearheaded by seven points from Hakim Hart. He finished the first half tied with Emilien and graduate guard Jahmir Young, who hit two 3-pointers late in the period, for the team lead in scoring.
Even when the shots weren’t falling, Maryland’s defense held strong and shut the Peacocks down. The Terps allowed just 19 first-half points to 35 from St. Peter’s and forced nine turnovers in the opening 20 minutes. Midway through the period, St. Peter’s went on a field goal drought that lasted nearly seven minutes.
“I felt the we had a — we did a great job on the defensive end,” Young said. “We had trouble early defensive rebounding, but we was able to turn it around.”
Maryland, which went 3-of-12 from three in the first half, flipped a switch and came out of the gates in the second with a vengeance, nailing three consecutive shots from beyond the arc: two from Scott and one from Hart.
The Terps continued to pour it on from there, making five consecutive shots to go on a 13-0 run that extended their lead to 31 with just under 13 minutes left. Hart led the way again, eventually finishing his night with a game-high 20 points.
“The one thing I’ve learned about this team, if you look back at our stats, wins and losses and plus-minus wins or losses and you really break down statistics, there’s one person that’s a key factor for us,” Willard said of Hart. “And I got on Hakim Hart pretty good, pretty hard just these three days because he is — he is the difference-maker. When he is engaged and he’s playing, he’s going, he just gives us such a different dimension offensively, even defensively.”
The other major standout from the second half was Young, who was coming off a season-low three points in Maryland’s previous game against UCLA. He had six second-half points to bring his final total to 14, which was second only to Hart.
Once Maryland got going in the second half, it never looked back. The Terps shot 57.1% from the field in the final 20 minutes, keeping their foot on the gas en route to a 30-point win over the Peacocks.
“We’re a good shooting team once we get the ball inside-out, we touch the paint and then, you know, we find each other,” Young said. “I feel like we’ll have success if we do that in the future.”
Following an eight-day break for finals that came after a spell of five games in 15 days — three of which were away from home — the Terps will get another opportunity to rest over the holidays with a week separating Thursday’s game and their next one against UMBC on Dec. 29.
Three things to know
1. Julian Reese’s health. The absence of Julian Reese was felt most strongly on the boards, as the Terps lost the rebounding battle to a St. Peter’s team that doesn’t come close to replicating the size and athleticism of the Big Ten opponents Maryland will face when the calendar flips to the new year. Willard may have another opportunity to give Reese rest against UMBC, but after that Maryland will need him back.
2. Willard had a chance to unload his bench. While games against the likes of St. Peter’s don’t stack up to those against some of the high-caliber opponents Maryland has or will have to face this season, they provide an opportunity to evaluate. Almost the entire Maryland roster saw the floor Thursday, giving Willard a chance to see how some of his lesser-used players respond to extended playing time.
“As a freshman, you get really nervous. You know, the only way you get over those nerves is playing a little bit,” Willard said.
3. Maryland’s offense came alive in the second half. By the time halftime rolled around, Maryland had already more or less sealed a win, but the second half put it completely out of reach for St. Peter’s. The Terps shot the ball at a 55.6% clip from three in the second half, a good response to a first half performance that was streaky at best from outside.